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Going down the wrong track with corn ethanol

Periodically a poll is published that reports a major percentage of Americans 'think the country is on the wrong track.' They never suggest what the wrong track is or what the right track might be.

Well, here is a suggestion for a wrong track: corn based ethanol. Use of it does not save petroleum. It takes nearly as much energy to grow the corn and process it as the final yield in energy. It essentially does not make us a bit less dependent on foreign oil.

E85 (85 percent ethanol) is priced at about $2.50 per gallon. Gasoline is priced up to $3 per gallon. But your car gets 30 percent less mileage on E85 than it does on gasoline. E85 is not worth more than $2.10 in terms of what is does for you. Not only that, Ethanol producers enjoy a 51-cent per gallon Federal subsidy! That subsidy comes out of our pockets. So we are actually paying $3.01 for Ethanol, getting 30 percent less mileage and not reducing use of foreign oil a bit! What a country!

Further, diversion of corn from livestock and people food has diminished those supplies and caused the price of corn to double since the advent of Ethanol. Where is the payoff for this gigantic effort?

In addition to the futility of burning Ethanol to avoid foreign oil, now we learn that Ethanol produces more air pollution than gasoline in the form of ozone. How's that for an unforeseen side effect?

The right track is to drill in Anwar and undersea sources for more oil. Build lots of nuclear reactors to make electricity. This electricity is easily distributed via power grids. Some of that electricity can be used to make hydrogen fuel for fuel-cell vehicles. General Motors is already preparing to produce them.

It's also possible to make more use of our huge coal sources. More research could learn how to clean up the combustion process and even sequester the carbon dioxide. Our politicians seem more concerned about global warming than in keeping us warm in the winter.

Congress just passed an energy bill that will tax conventional fuels and make them more expensive but will not increase production. Its only incentives are for the production of more 'alternative' fuels such as bio-diesel, solar, wind and cellulosic ethanol from grass and wood-chips. Large amounts of power from all these sources are years in the future. Wind power is great, but you still need standby fuel-based generation plants for the times when the wind isn't blowing. Our politicians do not favor nuclear power. It's not likely those now in office will do much in that direction.

Another wrong track is Congress' obsession with oversight subpoenas to shake down the Bush administration. Instead the right track would be to work on Social Security and other long term problems. They are also dedicated to losing the war in Iraq. They want to surrender in Washington as they did in Vietnam. Instead they should cheer for our troops, who are finally making real progress. In spite of Mr. Bush's niggling rules of engagement, our troops are optimistic about winning.

George Edens is a resident of Lake Oswego.