chapter  13
14 Pages

Bio fuels, food, and trade: a comparison of bio fuel development efforts in two communities in Illinois


Introduction In the early-2000s, bio fuel production, particularly corn-based ethanol, looked extremely attractive to the farm communities in the Midwest (United States). Environmental goals of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, desire for independence from foreign sources of petroleum, and consumer interest in green products such as renewable energy had contributed to a national commitment to subsidize bio fuels. The result was a rapid expansion of corn grown for ethanol and a burgeoning of small ethanol plants. Tariffs on ethanol imports as well as a subsidy that did not shrink as oil prices rose made the domestic bio fuels industry look even more attractive. The price of corn more than doubled between 2004 and 2007, and corn growers flourished. Serious problems soon emerged, however. The higher price of corn was not as good for the ethanol plants as for the corn growers (and much less so for chicken producers and others using corn as an input). Moreover, the entire industry came under scrutiny as food prices soared around the world in 2007 and early 2008. Although corn-based ethanol production was clearly not the only contributor to higher food prices, estimates from experts indicated that it added something to the food prices but they could not agree on how much; estimates varied widely. Demonstrations over the high food prices took place in more than 25 developing countries, and as many as 100 million people were added to the roles of those living in poverty. China and India, among others, banned the use of food grain in ethanol production. Then commodity prices began to fall as the financial crisis and credit crunch dominated the news in late 2008. This put discussions of the link between bio fuels and food security on hold. This chapter examines the bio fuels experience in two communities in Illinois by focusing on community development issues associated with efforts to open an ethanol refinery. Using the community capitals framework (CCF ), the chapter examines social issues involved with siting an ethanol plant in one community and provides some contrasts with another community that blocked the opening of a plant. The CCF stresses a systems approach to analyzing community and economic development, as well as community resilience, by focusing on seven types of capital: natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial, and built

(Flora and Flora 2008). After discussing the local community development issues, the chapter briefly addresses the global linkages that were largely omitted from local decisions and debates.