Ethanol: The secret, dirty cost of Obama's green energy push
In this photo taken Saturday, July 20, 2013, an ethanol plant stands next to a cornfield near Nevada, Iowa. When President George W. Bush signed a law in 2007 requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, he predicted it would make the country "stronger, cleaner and more secure." But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today. Government mandates to increase ethanol production have helped drive up corn prices leading to marginal land being farmed to produce the crop. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
The hills of southern Iowa bear the scars of America's push for green energy: The brown gashes where rain has washed away the soil. The polluted streams that dump fertilizer into the water supply.
Even the cemetery that disappeared like an apparition into a cornfield.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
With the Iowa political caucuses on the horizon in 2007, presidential candidate Barack Obama made homegrown corn a centerpiece of his plan to slow global warming. And when President George W. Bush signed a law that year requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline, Bush predicted it would make the country "stronger, cleaner and more secure."
But the ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.
Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama's watch.
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can't survive.
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its economic benefits to the farming industry.
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.
The hilly, once-grassy landscape is made up of fragile soil that, unlike the earth in the rest of the state, is poorly suited for corn. Nevertheless, it has yielded to America's demand.
"They're raping the land," said Bill Alley, a member of the board of supervisors in Wayne County, which now bears little resemblance to the rolling cow pastures shown in postcards sold at a Corydon pharmacy.