Last weekend, Congress allowed the hated ethanol subsidy to expire. Decried as wasteful and inefficient, the subsidy had become a favorite target of both liberals and conservatives. It has even been blamed for worsening the global food crisis. But there’s one more downside to ethanol subsidies that you may not have heard of: their harm on the water supply.
According to a 2007 article in Sustainable Development Law & Policy, ethanol subsidies “accelerate[d] a domestic and global water crisis” by increasing soil erosion and the use of herbicides and pesticides—toxins which ultimately end up as residue in well water. These toxins may even have caused the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, “an ever-increasing seasonal phenomenon where nutrient runoff causes oxygen depletion in an area the size of Massachusetts, causing harmful impacts on marine and coastal fish population.” Now that the government has stopped underwriting ethanol production, progress against this kind of environmental damage might finally become possible. Who said Congressional inaction doesn’t have the occasional upside?