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Halt the gold rush to corn fuel

To take corn out of cereal bowls and put it into our gas tanks isn't an answer to global warming.

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Corn. There's nothing like eating it right off the cob at a picnic. It's also great as flakes, fritters, or a muffin. And it's feed for livestock. But there's one thing corn should not be: A solution for global warming or a way to reduce America's dependency on foreign oil.

Corn-based ethanol fuel has been growing wildly in recent years. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, the US now has 129 ethanol plants, with more than 50 online since just 2005. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Bush called for the US to make 35 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2017, about 15 percent of its total liquid fuels.

Today, half the gasoline sold in the US contains some ethanol. But the problems of mass- producing this type of ethanol are beginning to crop up.

One problem, according to a report this month from the National Research Council, is that the projected increases in the use of corn to produce ethanol could cause considerable harm to water quality and supply. Pushing corn production into drier regions could drain aquifers and compete with other needs for water such as hydropower and fish habitat. The heavy use of nitrogen needed to fertilize corn crops could harm the quality of groundwater, rivers, and coastal waters, causing "dead zones." A single corn-ethanol refinery that produces 100 million gallons a year would use enough water to supply a town of 5,000 people, the study concluded.

Ethanol also doesn't travel well through pipelines because it easily picks up water and other contaminants. That means it's impractical to ship it over long distances.

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