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Map of the Hypoxic Zone and Gulf Oil Spill: Part of why more corn ethanol is not the solution

Nathanael Greene

Posted May 9, 2010

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Check out the map of the oil spill and the 2009 hypoxic zone in today's New York Times. As I mentioned in my last blog, the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer. As this map shows, the dead zone at least as large as the oil spill and it takes a huge toll on the marine life and region's economy every summer. With about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution.

Given the double whammy that corn ethanol and oil impose on the Gulf coast, it is particularly ironic that corn ethanol's top priority is extending a tax credit--the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit--that lines the pockets of the oil industry and corn ethanol to the tune of $5.4 billion per year. And in exchange for this huge give away, what do we get beyond oil spills and dead zones? As I've written about before, not much. NRDC has proposed a Greener Biofuels Tax Credit, but the reality is that just about anything else we might do with these billions of tax dollars would be better for jobs, energy security and for the Gulf.

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Bill S.May 9 2010 02:00 PM

"Double whammy" is certainly an accurate term for what's in store for for parts of Louisiana's gulf coast. The latest NOAA forecast (released May 8) has the spill zone moving into a severe hypoxic zone over the next few days.

The talking heads on the news discuss the oil dispersion process as helping "nature's way" of dealing with oil - microbes break down the oil. Can those beneficial (and crucial) microbes survive in an hypoxic zone?

Nathanael GreeneMay 10 2010 10:23 AM

My colleague, Jon Devine, points out that it isn’t just nitrogen that fuels the dead zone. Phosphorus is believed to play a significant role too. A couple years ago, we did a report on how this relates to some other issues, but it discusses the science a bit; you can find it at

DoatsetopMay 11 2010 09:08 PM

Nathanael - a little nitpick here. You say "in my last blog..."

What you mean is "in my last post..."

Please do not refer to posts as blogs. It's extremely incorrect. The entire site is a blog, made up of posts.


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