LTE: Another Look at Ethanol Production in Clearfield County

I wish my schedule would permit me to be more active in research, but unfortunately the best I can do is offer some valid questions and possibly point out some reason to pause for reflection. While I am not completely opposed to an ethanol plant, and I do feel that it could offer some advantages both in local economy and fuel if done properly, I am speculative on several accounts.

1. Air quality: Technology exists to permit facilities to produce a product without a negative effect on the air quality and the EPA as of 2007 has lessened the restrictions on the output of pollutants from corn ethanol plants. The public should be aware of that, and a responsible company will not abide by those standards. Furthermore I do not believe that people are aware of the ensuing fight with the EPA to toughen air standards and the “royal fight” with the U.S. chamber of commerce (a powerful business lobbying group known for tailored policies to benefit members) who strongly opposes restrictions. If a plant has smokestacks and we are to feel safe because the EPA claims the pollution level emitted is benevolent, then why do they have to be so tall? If it is truly safe, lower them to prove it. After all, if it is poisonous and it is being released over our heads, we are foolish to believe that it will not fall back to earth either in a populated area or in a water source.

2. Location: Why Clearfield county? There are many areas that would be suitable for their facility. My research has shown that some of the higher-ups in the company are from Pittsburgh area. Why not closer to that area? Is it possibly because our area has a lower income which often correlates with a lower standard of education, which could be interrupted as less organized resistance? (The Shawville Power plant comes to mind, ranked one of the dirtiest power plants in the nation out of several hundred). Can we really afford to add more pollution to our air?

3. Corn: Of what sound reason are they going to ship in the corn from elsewhere? From my limited understanding, they are not using local corn right away. We have many farmers here that have fields that could be used to provide corn and money locally to further stimulate our economy.

4. Food: While it is little known or publicized by our entertainment focused media, the world is having a food shortage and the U.S. for the first time is having wheat shipped in rather than exporting it. It would seem to me that there is a problem with a system that takes food and uses it for fuel. Selfishness comes to mind about our society when it appears that fueling our ATVs, SUVs and other non-essential vehicles is more important than feeding the hungry. By no means am I trying to degrade the importance of recreational activity, I am merely trying to make a point.

5. Open dialogue for discussion: Our elected officials should have a responsibility to inform the public about the downfalls of such a plant as well as present the positives. As a community it should be up to us, not just those elected, to decide if it is worth it. I work five days a week and spend a considerable time commuting, not to mention my home life is busy with work as well, so time for myself, let alone time to research and double-check every move and decision our elected officials make, is few and far between. This is why responsible leadership is important and not found in career politicians who treat their job as a business to be maintained rather than a service to the people.

6. Cost effectiveness: The corn is going to be planted and harvested by machines that use fuel. It will then be transported to the facility by using fuel to make the ethanol. How much fuel will be used to make the ethanol? Then since ethanol cannot be piped easily, they must use tankers to carry the fuel. Point to ponder – How will ethanol not drive up the price of gas? And at what price per gallon does it need to be sold to be profitable? I am guessing somewhere above three dollars per gallon. What is the payback times for plant construction and operation?

7. Noise: Do we have any idea of what type of noise this will produce? Will the noise peak at certain times? If so, are there measures that can be taken to avoid that problem?

In closing, I believe the plant could be a good idea if done correctly. But let’s not fool ourselves. We are not talking about a perpetual motion machine that will solve our problems. Plus, let us take a good look at ourselves, families and friends; it would seem health issues are more important now than ever as more people are diagnosed with cancers, lung ailments and various other pollution-related illnesses. This is what I think every citizen needs to be made aware of and research themselves. Let us not be greedy at the expense of our health and our children’s health. And let’s keep our egos in check. Attached is a link I found that may be able to help. http://www.cleanairwatch.org/   

Gary Mcclure
State College, PA

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