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Human cost of Brazil's biofuels boom
Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
For as far as the eye can see, stalks of sugar cane march across the hillsides here like giant praying mantises. This is ground zero for ethanol production in Brazil -- "the Saudi Arabia of biofuels," as some have already labeled this vast South American country.
But even as Brazil's booming economy is powered by fuel processed from the cane, labor officials are confronting what some call the country's dirty little ethanol secret: the mostly primitive conditions endured by the multitudes of workers who cut the cane.
Biofuels may help reduce humanity's carbon footprint, but the social footprint is substantial.
"These workers should have a break, a place to eat and access to a proper restroom," Marcus Vinicius Goncalves, a government labor cop in suit and tie, declared in the midst of a snarl of felled stalks and bedraggled cane cutters here. "This is degrading treatment."
More than 300,000 farmworkers are seasonal cane cutters in Brazil, the government says. By most accounts, their work and living conditions range from basic to deplorable to outright servitude.
(16 June 2008)
How biofuels are like drugs
Vinod Khosla, Gristmill
Not all biofuels are the same; we can do biofuel well or poorly
To my surprise, recently I found myself the subject of an editorial by the Wall Street Journal which characterized me as a strong advocate of subsidies for food-based ethanol, and as a recipient of "federal dole" who ought to "take a vow of embarrassed silence."
I have not advocated subsidies for food-based ethanol. In fact, I strongly believe any nascent technology that cannot exist without subsidies beyond an introductory period will not gain market penetration, and is not worth supporting.
I do look forward to the WSJ's complaints about oil's subsidy bonanza, from tax breaks for drilling, loopholes that allow royalty-free or below-market offshore oil leases, manufacturing tax breaks, as well as roughly $7 billion in subsidies in the wake of the Katrina disaster. At a recent WSJ Conference, 75 percent of the erudite audience "voted" (rightly) that oil was more highly subsidized than ethanol.
(17 June 2008)
The bad oil on ethanol
Greg Roberts, The Australian
GEOFF Cornford has battled years of drought while managing the North Australia Pastoral Company's Wainui cattle feedlot near the southern Queensland town of Dalby.
Now, just 20km down the road, a new threat looms for the $3 billion feedlot industry in the form of Dalby Bio Refinery's $150million plant, the first in Australia to be devoted to ethanol production. The plant is due to open in August, using sorghum to make a product that until recently held great hope for containing spiralling petrol costs.
Despite a bumper sorghum crop following summer rains, local feedgrain prices of $300 a tonne are twice what they were pre-drought. Like other ethanol producers, the Dalby plant will receive a commonwealth subsidy to compensate for a 38.14c-a-litre fuel excise, about $34 million for its annual production of 90 million litres.
Cornford says further hikes in feedgrain prices are inevitable because of the biofuel plant, which will need about 250,000 tonnes of grain a year: "We've had grain shortages in three of the past four years. The ethanol producers are our competitors for grain but are subsidised by taxpayers."
Higher feedgrain prices mean higher prices for beef, pork and poultry. What has been overlooked in the debate over alternative fuels in Australia is that food supply and prices - and the battle against inflation - are entwined with the fate of ethanol.
(31 May 2008)
Farm-Belt Voters Favor Eliminating or Scaling Back Corn Ethanol Mandate, New Poll Finds
David Almasi, The National Center for Public Policy Research
76% of Americans Want Ethanol Law Changed; 41% Want Mandate Repealed Entirely
Washington, DC - Most Americans - including those in the Farm Belt - want Congress to reduce or eliminate the corn ethanol mandate, according to a new poll released today by the National Center for Public Policy Research.
The poll, published by the Public Opinion and Policy Center of the National Center for Public Policy Research, found that 41% of Americans want Congress to repeal the corn ethanol mandate entirely, while 35% want Congress to repeal the law it passed last December to double it. Just 6% want the mandate to increase as planned while 5% want it to be even expanded further.
"With grocery prices up 1.5% in April alone, or 18% on an annualized basis, Americans don't appear to be in the mood for anything that would push food prices up even further," said David A. Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "While there is more than one reason that food prices are rising, diverting one-third of the U.S. corn crop to produce fuel rather than food is a significant factor and the American people know it."
The survey also found a majority in the Farm Belt want Congress to change the ethanol policy. Twenty-five percent want it repealed entirely while 30% want it scaled back.
"Senator Charles Grassley recently called on Iowans to protest what he called a 'smear campaign' against ethanol,'" said Ridenour. "Don't look for that massive protest any time soon. Ethanol is drawing criticism from the Senator's own backyard."
(10 June 2008)
Recommended by Ron Steenblik at Gristmill. Press release from a conservative think tank. About Us
The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today's public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.
Pest threatens Brazil's Sao Paulo cane fields
Inae Riveras, Reuters
A new pest in Brazil's largest sugar cane growing state, Sao Paulo, could cause annual crop losses of up to $245 million, if it spreads as expected, a leading sugar cane research center said on Tuesday.
The giant cane borer (Telchin licus), which is common in Brazil's northeastern states, was spotted for the first time in Sao Paulo last July, in the Limeira area and "has disseminated," the Sugar Cane Technology Center said.
"As it is a new plague in the center-south, combative methods have not yet been developed," said Enrico De Beni Arrigoni, technological research coordinator at the CTC.
"Chemical treatments have not shown any positive results," he said, adding that in the Northeast, where the plague was identified for the first time in 1927, the only solution was to catch the insects manually in the cane fields.
(11 June 2008)
Brazil's Diverse Energy Resources (video)
Energy Policy TV
Allan Poole, Brazil Energy Expert, former US Agency for International Development (USAID) Official and National Institute for Energy Efficiency (INEE) of Brazil, discusses the many facets of Brazil's unique energy policy based on his 27 years of experience working in different sectors -- including nuclear, hydroelectricity, and ethanol. He provides insight on the successes and difficulties Brazil has encountered in energy diversity and compares them to what the United States may face.
(10 June 2008)