As gas prices fall, critics bash ethanol as fuel source

As gas prices fall, critics bash ethanol as fuel source

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Gas prices keep falling. The national average for a gallon of regular is down to $3.18 Monday – the cheapest gas has been in almost 2 years.

Prices are down in Chicago, too. AAA says the average is $3.33 a gallon, which is down 10 cents from last week and down almost 30 cents from the same time last year.

Some critics say we could be saving even more, if it weren't for ethanol, which makes up 10-15 percent of gasoline. Those critics also contend that ethanol is harming the environment, too.

In this long-running battle, America's new status as the world's number one energy producer and a net exporter is undercutting the most powerful argument traditionally made by supporters of corn-based ethanol: that it helps make us energy independent. The critics of government support for corn ethanol have some new arguments. Millions of acres of prairie grassland have been plowed under in recent years, converted to growing corn.

Very little of the big bumper crop of corn that's just been harvested from farms across the Midwest will ever end up in anyone's kitchen. Only two percent will be consumed by humans. More than half will likely be converted into ethanol and blended with gasoline to fuel America's vehicles. But is that good for consumers?

"At the end of the day, it's not a winning situation, overall," says Dan Flynn with the Price Futures Group. "It definitely hurts the consumer."

Dan Flynn and other analysts believe motorists often pay more at the pump because federal regulations require that every gallon of gasoline include 10-15 percent corn-based ethanol. When President George W. Bush signed it into law in 2007, oil imports were growing and supporters argued it would help to free America from dependency on oil-rich dictators. With growing gushers of oil now flowing from domestic wells, Canada and other countries nearby, we don't buy much energy at all any more from the war-torn Middle East.

Now, come critics claiming it's not only bad for consumers, but that corn ethanol is an environmental culprit. A writer for Forbes Magazine quoted an Associated Press report that, in order to grow more corn for ethanol, farmers recently plowed under five million acres of grasslands, including 1.2 million acres of virgin prairie.

Corn growers claim the new doubts about ethanol are being generated by big oil companies.

The Illinois Corn Growers Association defended the ethanol program, insisting that every gallon of the U.S.-made corn-based fuel displaces an equivalent amount of petroleum that would otherwise be imported.

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