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Thursday, August 21st, 2008 -- 2:08 PM

Corn-based ethanol once enjoyed overwhelming public support.

It seemed like one heck of a good idea: grow your own fuel.

Riding that wave, corn growers were able to convince politicians to subsidize its production and, seemingly overnight, ethanol plants were going up left and right.

While corn producers' groups say it's a coincidence, corn prices have since shot through the roof.

There have been studies, including a [url=http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/july05/ethanol.toocostly.ssl.html]Cornell University report[/url], that show ethanol from corn requires 29% more fossil fuel energy to produce than the fuel produced.

[url=http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/environment/2007-05-05-ethanolenvironment_N.htm]Other studies[/url] have claimed the burning of ethanol is worse for the environment than petroleum-based fuels.

But, for every study that paints ethanol in a negative light, there is another that shows there are benefits to both the environment and the economy.

Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls) and Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) have gone on record in support of ethanol. They co-chair the state's Domestic Biofuels Study Committee, which held its first meeting this week.

Kreitlow hopes to wade through the conflicting data.

"It's 19 people, six legislators, 13 private citizens. It's just a wide variety, everything from an ag economist, to retailers. We have people involved in making the fuels. We have farmers that represent the corn growers," Kreitlow says.

Kreitlow admits he's personally biased.

"I am going into it with a personal bias that says renewable fuels are the best way to reach energy security and grow the economy in Wisconsin," he says, "But, I think in my old role as a journalist, I am extremely open to a very careful examination as to what other people have to say about it."

Opponents ask a simple question: if corn-based ethanol makes sense, why does the government need to subsidize its production.

"That's a very fair question," Kreitlow admits, "In fact, the renewable fuels industry will be, or is very near to the point it will be able to compete dollar-for-dollar, mile-for-mile with petroleum-based products."

"But, just like any industry, we look for ways to grow our economy. One of the ways Wisconsin can be a leader in growing our economy is through new energy."

The Committee's next meeting will be in September.

On the Web:

[url=http://wisconsineye.com/wisEye_programming/ARCHIVES-committees.html#com_080819_spc_biofuel_01]Watch Committee Hearing on Wisconsin Eye[/url]

Feel free to contact us with questions and/or comments.