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In an effort to promote its domestic biofuels industry, the United States continues to levy a 54-cent-per-gallon import duty on sugar cane-based ethanol from Brazil.
But environmental advocates question whether corn-based ethanol from the US is actually better for the climate than Brazilian ethanol from sugar cane.
“Sugar's emissions benefits compared to corn are like night and day, maybe twice as much, in reducing direct greenhouse gas impact,” Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council to the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
“But if the loss of land to sugar plantations leads to someone cutting down the rain forest for cattle pasture, the impact is not so clear.”
There are also concerns that using corn to produce ethanol puts pressure on the food supply.
"The main problem with corn-based ethanol is that it competes with agriculture, and that's a huge social problem," Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan Auto Research Center, told the newspaper.
But supporters of the Brazilian ethanol tariff argue that it helps protect against the US simply replacing dependency on one foreign fuel source with dependency on another.
“The tariff provides an investment environment so that next-generation biofuels can get off the ground, to foster the build-out of the US renewable fuels industry," said Ken Cassman, director of energy science research at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
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