Ethanol backlash developing

The Wall Street Journal cites problems with corn fuel.

Ethanol receives a 51-cents-a-gallon federal subsidy.

But a backlash has been brewing in towns across the Midwest.

Fights have broken out in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas and several towns in Wisconsin.

Opponents complain that ethanol plants deplete aquifers, draw heavy truck traffic, pose safety concerns, contribute to air pollution and produce a sickly-sweet smell akin to that of a barroom floor.

Robert Dineen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, a Washington trade group, was quoted as saying, “Generally, communities look at these plants as local economic engines.” The story says that the plants bring jobs and have dramatically raised corn prices and farmland values. Many ethanol plants have paid rich dividends to investors, who often include local farmers and other residents.

But experts hotly debate whether renewable fuels offer a panacea for the world’s energy needs. As with ethanol derived from corn — which slurps up water — many alternative fuels are creating environmental problems of their own.

In Indonesia, Malaysia and Canada, forests are being slashed for energy-yielding crops or other unconventional fuels. In India, environmentalists say, water tables are dropping as farmers boost production of ethanol-yielding sugar.

As the rush to build ethanol plants continues in the U.S. — there are 114 in operation, 80 under construction and many more in planning stages — clashes with locals are multiplying.