Fueling Local Water Pollution: Ethanol Refineries, Land Use, and Nitrate Runoff

Ethanol production in the United States, driven by federal renewable fuel policy, has exploded over the past two decades and has prompted the construction of many ethanol refineries throughout the US Corn Belt. These refineries have introduced a new inelastic demand for corn in the areas where they were built, reducing basis for nearby farmers and effectively subsidizing local corn production. In this paper, I explore whether and to what extent the construction of new ethanol refineries has actually increased local corn acreage. I also explore some environmental effects of this acreage increase. Using a thirteen year panel of over two million field-level observations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Nebraska, I estimate a net increase of nearly 300,000 acres of corn in 2014 relative to 2002 that can be attributed to the placements of new ethanol refineries. This increase comprises approximately 0.75% of the total 2014 corn acreage within my dataset. Furthermore, this effect is separate from the general equilibrium effect of ethanol policy increasing aggregate demand for corn. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that over 21,000 tons of the nitrogen applied to fields in my sample in 2014 can be attributed to refinery location effects. Essentially all of these observed effects occur only in areas within 30 miles of an ethanol refinery, suggesting that refineries have meaningful localized impacts on land use and environmental quality such as nitrate runoff.


Issue Date:
May 27 2015
Publication Type:
Conference Paper/ Presentation
PURL Identifier:
http://purl.umn.edu/205741
Total Pages:
30
JEL Codes:
Q15; Q16; Q53
Series Statement:
Paper 7340




 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-08-28

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