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Published April 15, 2010, 08:16 AM

Our View: Ethanol isn’t perfect, but it has benefits

Ethanol boosters are making quite an effort lately to tell Americans about the biofuel’s worth to the nation. What a circuitous route this ag-based industry has traveled in just a few short years.
This week, the industry is launching a $2.5 million advertising campaign aimed at changing the nation’s perception of the fuel, which generally is derived from corn but which likely will come from other sources in the not-too-distant future. A decade ago, ethanol was the darling of the Midwest, unable to do wrong.

By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic

Ethanol boosters are making quite an effort lately to tell Americans about the biofuel’s worth to the nation. What a circuitous route this agbased industry has traveled in just a few short years.

This week, the industry is launching a $2.5 million advertising campaign aimed at changing the nation’s perception of the fuel, which generally is derived from corn but which likely will come from other sources in the not-too-distant future. A decade ago, ethanol was the darling of the Midwest, unable to do wrong.

What has happened?

As some have predicted — including The Daily Republic — corn prices have risen to accommodate the demand of the corn-hungry industry. It has hurt some producers who depend on corn to feed their animals.

Too, food prices saw a steep spike, and especially so in 2008. It’s necessary to note that local grocers certainly are not to blame for higher prices that may or may not have resulted from the ethanol industry — it’s a national trend. Ethanol’s role in those higher prices has been the subject of sharp debate, and two industries — ethanol and national food sellers — have engaged in a finger-pointing battle these past couple of years, blaming each other for consumer complaints.

And locally, our nearest ethanol plant — one owned by ethanol giant Poet, in the nearby village of Loomis — was met with various protests as it was built and opened for business. Those complaints seemed to have quieted and today, the Poet plant is a good and steady Davison County employer.

We have had our complaints about ethanol. We worried that corn and food prices would rise and shared in some, but not all, of the concerns of the residents of Loomis while the Poet plant was being constructed.

We have also complained about what the ethanol industry has done to certain county roads. A sad side effect of ethanol is that all that corn must be hauled, and that puts pressure on otherwise quiet rural highways. South Dakota counties don’t have much spending money and here in Davison County we’re seeing first-hand the long-term adverse effects those heavy trucks can have on our roads.

But it’s not all bad.

The effect the industry has had on corn farmers’ pocketbooks has been substantial. As the farm industry goes, so goes much of South Dakota, and farming has been good of late.

The numerous ethanol plants have provided jobs that otherwise would not be here during these difficult economic times.

And eventually, we foresee ethanol taking a bite out of America’s addiction to foreign oil. The TV ad campaign that begins this week will remind us that “no wars have ever been fought over ethanol.”

No real wars, anyway. The past two years, the industry has had to trade its share of punches in the ring of public debate.

Ethanol has seen an interesting swing, from its early status as an untouchable industry, to its quick boom years and, lately, to its position of defending itself.

Ethanol has its problems, no doubt. But America must try to understand its benefits, too.

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