Fuel for thought 

There was some hoopla last week when Gov. Jennifer Granholm participated in a ceremony announcing that a partnership between General Motors and Meijer will bring 20 new ethanol fueling stations to Michigan.

They'll sell E-85, a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol derived from agricultural products.

At first blush, this seems like something to celebrate. Instead of sending a fortune overseas and warring over Middle Eastern crude, we can boost the state's economy by converting a renewable resource — corn — into fuel while cutting the emission of the greenhouse gasses that are causing our planet to heat up.

"Partnerships like the one unveiled today boost our economy and support homegrown Michigan businesses while reducing emissions and bringing us one step closer to energy independence," chirped the guv.

But few things are ever as simple as they might first seem.

There's debate over the efficiency of turning corn into fuel. When you take the energy and resources to grow corn — water, fertilizers and pesticides, diesel to run tractors, etc. — and add the fuel consumed at ethanol plants, does it pencil out? It's an important question, considering that Michigan already has one such ethanol plant with four more planned.

Also, as pointed out by environmentalist Alex Sagady on the EnviroMich listserv, a proposal by the U.S. EPA to relax air pollution standards at new and modified ethanol plants is cause for concern.

And now there's the possibility of using coal to power these plants. So far, Michigan has resisted that push. But, as Mark Clayton reported last month in the Christian Science Monitor, "With natural gas prices soaring, talk of coal power for new ethanol plants and retrofitting existing refineries for coal is growing."

So, we'll burn one fossil fuel (coal) to cut back on the use of another fossil fuel (oil), both of which contribute to the greenhouse effect?

News Hits suggests picking up the May issue of Vanity Fair for the article "While Washington Slept" by Mark Hertsgaard, a chilling account of the environmental catastrophe that's brewing. It's not a question of if the planet is heating up. What remains to be seen is whether we'll act to limit the destruction and chaos that certainly await otherwise.

So, did you have a nice Earth Day?

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com

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