In the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson's column "Start Drilling" points out that ethanol production is far worse for the environment than drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic tundra, yet Congress promotes ethanol subsidies to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, even as it blocks drilling in the Arctic and "the Atlantic and Pacific coasts" that would do far more to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. "What keeps these areas closed are exaggerated environmental fears, strong prejudice against oil companies and sheer stupidity," he writes.
A news story today in the Post describes how ethanol production is devouring our food supply, even though a study shows that "greenhouse-gas emissions from corn and even cellulosic ethanol 'exceed or match those from fossil fuels and therefore produce no greenhouse benefits.' By encouraging an expansion of acreage, the study added, the use of U.S. cropland for ethanol could make climate conditions dramatically worse. And the runoff from increased use of fertilizers on expanded acreage would compound damage to waterways all the way to the Gulf of Mexico."
In the American Spectator, Iain Murray notes that ethanol production has caused "food shortages and massive increases in food prices around the world. There have been food riots in Indonesia, Mexico, Egypt, and most recently, Haiti -- where the poor have been reduced to eating cakes made with bleach and are on the verge of bringing the government down. Even in America, some grocery stores have begun to institute a form of rationing. Meanwhile, massive tracts of rainforest are being cleared in Indonesia to produce biodiesel, threatening the orangutan and other magnificent animals with extinction. In Brazil, the growth of sugar cultivation for ethanol is forcing food producers into the Amazon."
By contrast, one of the Audubon Society's chief bird sanctuaries (the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana), has 37 oil wells on site, and has produced natural gas for 50 years without harming the environment. Drilling for oil hasn't harmed the birds a bit. But ethanol production causes environmental destruction, mass hunger, starvation, and rioting worldwide.
Disclosure: like many Americans, I have a retirement plan (both a 401(K) and an IRA). Like most retirement plans, it contains mutual funds. And most of those mutual funds own some stock in oil companies. So when politicians demand that the government impose a "windfall profits tax" on oil companies, what they are really trying to do is take money from my retirement plan -- and your retirement plan, too, if you have one. That's not going to encourage exploration for new sources of oil, or reduce our dependence on foreign oil.