Northern Valley Beacon

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Friday, July 29, 2005


Burning pork

If the new energy bill, which should be sailing through the Senate today, passes, it will reduce our dependency on foreign oil only if we can find a way to burn the pork it produces. It insures a lavish lifestyle for the CEOs of a number of large corporations. Not having royalty in the U.S., corporate CEOs are the only thing those who long for feudal pageantry have. And Halliburton gets a special provision, just in case morality and intelligence prevail and we bring our troops home from Iraq instead of putting them up as sitting ducks for IEDs. Halliburton has a safety net if war profiteering ends.

The bill does offer some incentives for wind and solar and energy, the technology for which is improving all the time. As a country, we are behind other industrial-technology nations in developing those forms of energy. The bill also provides incentives for increasing the production of ethanol. And that gives me pause.

One of the attractive features of ethanol is that it seems to offer a way to slow down the corporate consolidation of farming. It gives smaller producers a chance to get a price for their corn without the federal farm programs that are losing the support of urban legislators who see the total dependence of states like South Dakota on federal dollars as a burden. States whose primary economies are agricultural are regarded as welfare states by a majority of voters.

The problem with ethanol is that it takes more energy to produce than it yields as a fuel. A number of universities, Cornell the latest, have produced studies to show that the production of ethanol is largely the conversion of one form of energy to another. It does not increase the amount of energy available. That is not to say that some improvements in distillation technology could not change that, but presently ethanol does not add to our total energy inventory.

An engineer in the ranks of the Brown County Democrats said that all ethanol plants should be powered by a wind-generator farm. But he also said that the power might be more efficiently used to process hydrogen.

Energy is one of the largest expenses for farmers. Back when the power needed for agriculture was supplied by horses, farmers received an economic benefit when they could grow their own fuel for powering-up the horses. When crop prices were low, farmers did not get caught in the squeeze between low crop prices and high energy costs. Early experiments with ethanol and methane as fuel were conducted with the idea of having small production facilities on every farm so that farming could remain energy independent and self-reliant. One of the earliest contraptions for producing ethanol burned corn cobs in the distillation process. Those schemes were quickly suppressed. The last thing corporate America wants is a farming industry that generates and refines its own fuel.

The new energy bill does nothing to address soaring fuel costs. It does leave ANWAR alone for a time. But mostly it takes good care of corporate America., the de facto rulers of our nation. Folks fascinated with feudal times can save money one way. They won't have to go to Renaissance festivals or the Society for Creative Anachronism to see what it's like to live in feudal times.

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