Last week, Summit Carbon Solutions of Iowa announced that it has formally asked the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission to permit its proposed Midwest Carbon Express pipeline, which would carry carbon dioxide from ethanol plants in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota (and now a planned fertilizer plant up in Grand Forks) out to an underground sequestration site in central North Dakota. Summit Carbon Solutions insists this carbon dioxide project will preserve the ethanol industry and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But new research indicates those two goals contradict each other. Researchers from from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and colleagues from Kansas, California, and Kentucky have found that the Renewable Fuel Standard has driven changes in land use that have emitted more greenhouse gases than if we’d just stuck with petro-fuel:
Despite the promise that the RFS would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) today finds that expansion of U.S. corn cultivation has come at eye-popping environmental costs. Corn production expanded by 8.7 percent, or 2.8 million hectares (6.9 million acres), between 2008 and 2016. As a result, the researchers found that nationwide annual fertilizer use surged by 3 to 8 percent and water pollutants rose by 3 to 5 percent. The sheer extent of domestic land use change, however, generated greenhouse gas emissions that are, at best, equivalent to those caused by gasoline use—and likely at least 24 percent higher.
That’s because the RFS caused corn prices to spike by 30 percent and soybean and other crops by 20 percent. As a result, farmers planted corn everywhere they could, replacing other crops and pastureland, and plowing up land that had previously been reserved for conservation purposes. They also often skipped the soybeans in their rotations, despite the potential impacts on their soil [Virginia Gewen, “How Corn Ethanol for Biofuel Fed Climate Change,” Civil Eats, 2022.02.14].
Add increased carbon dioxide messing up the climate to reduced crop rotation and polluted water and you can make a pretty good case that, instead of pursuing further hyperindustrial exploitation of rural America, which takes more from the farmers (property rights, community, economic independence), we should just say no to this carbon dioxide pipeline, park our gasoline- and ethanol-burning cars, drive electric cars when we must, and adjust our culture to drive less and walk and bike more.