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Ethanol faces increasing attacks

Oil-substitute star of 2005 in danger of becoming 2007’s whipping boy. Prime example is congressional debate on biofuels.

As corn is increasingly diverted from the grocery store to the ethanol plant, the biofuels craze - turning plant matter into fuel - has attracted plenty of vocal critics, from South American officials decrying the skyrocketing price of corn tortillas to a United Nations official who recently classified biofuel production as a “crime against humanity.”

While most people don’t equate the fermentation process used to turn corn into fuel with a high crime, more than a few economists and scientists are embroiled in a debate over the impact of corn-based ethanol production on everything from fuel supplies to crop prices to greenhouse gas emissions to construction costs.

Whether ethanol-blended gasoline is actually a cost saver for American consumers is up for debate, as is the effect of diverting massive quantities of corn into fuel on consumer food prices and other non-fuel products. But lawmakers may be willing to sidestep a major debate on the efficiency of ethanol if oil prices hit the $100 a barrel milestone in the coming days, as they are expected to. Soaring oil prices have already trickled down to consumers now paying $3 a gallon at the pump and this could lead Democratic lawmakers to throw renewed support behind a ramped up ethanol policy ahead of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays - key driving periods for US motorists... (full article) (Marketwatch)