Letters - 10/09/08

Oct. 9, 2008
The masses on mass transit

I don’t know where you live, but it’s pretty clear from your editorial that you haven’t much use for mass transit. That’s okay. Lots of people don’t. When you said that, “no U.S. region has been able to coax more than 1% of commuters to switch from car travel to rail,” though, you weren’t exactly clear as to how many already commute by rail. Or how effective opposition has been at every step of the way, usually by justifying how bad an idea it must be because so few people are switching. Circular logic, anyone?

In Salt Lake City, for instance, it took the 2002 Winter Games to prompt our region to finally get serious about light rail. And still, the naysayers said it would never fly. “It will cost too much,” they said, “and, besides, we Westerners love our cars and our individualism, and nobody will use it.” Funny, almost six years after the Olympics, ridership is roughly double even the highest ridership estimates and we’re working to build more light rail.

According to a community survey conducted in 2005 by the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.7% of Americans already used public transportation to get to work. Another 10.7% shared a ride with someone else, and almost 0.5% ride their bikes.

You also mentioned something about the inefficiency of trains. Rail freight revenue per ton-mile is currently something less than 3 cents. Trucks are in the neighborhood of 30 cents. Everything is relative, of course, but the math speaks for itself.

Jon Roesler

I never said anything derogatory about mass transit. I merely pointed out was that in most cities, job density is such that only 40% of jobs at most are downtown or in suburban centers. And if a city’s taxpayers decide they want to pay for and support a rail system that serves much less than half the area’s commuters, that is entirely up to them. But when job density is high, rail can make sense. Though I cited Manhattan, cities such as Washington, D.C. and Boston are also examples of high job density and practical rail lines.

Perhaps you were reading some other article. I also said absolutely nothing about rail freight or inefficiency of trains. — Leland Teschler

Ethanol’s the answer?

It’s editorials like yours that keeps E85 from becoming a reality (“What’s hot? Not ethanol,” Aug. 7), and I seem them every day. The bad publicity you present in this one article will turn off thousands to idea that E85 is a good thing. Your article focuses on corn stubble and not corn. Why? You must have a lot of stock in big oil. In my area, E85 is over $1.00 per gallon less than regular gas. Shouldn’t 85% of that be going back to the American economy?

Let’s see, 0.04% of the gas production amounts to 187 trucks per day or 187 new jobs. That’s 187 more people to get tax income from, 187 people spending money. Think of the positive that would do for the American economy.

You fail to mention the logistics of how we currently get oil. How many trucks and ships does it take to get oil to our gas stations? Instead, articles like yours put down even the thought of something to replace oil. I thought this was an engineering magazine and as engineer’s we should be thinking outside the box.

As recently as two years ago corn, was $1.60 (or less) a bushel. So another plus for E85 is that farmers are finally being compensated for living poorly due to the high costs of keeping the world from starving. We can’t import corn efficiently enough to compete against American farmers. Otherwise, we would. So farming jobs can’t be outsourced.

Future editorial’s should look at the positive’s ethanol.

Jeff Stevens

It isn’t editorials that “keep E85 from becoming a reality.” It is the economics. (And for the record, I do not own any stock in oil, big or otherwise.)

The reason E85 costs less than regular gas is because both its production and the corn used as a feedstock are subsidized with taxpayer dollars. Between 1995 and 2003, for example, federal corn subsidies totaled $37.3 billion, which is more than twice the amount spent on wheat subsidies, three times the amount spent on soybeans, and 70 times the amount spent on tobacco. And “Big Oil” gets a 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol, which will cost taxpayers about $4 billion this year. Worse, these subsidies are part of federal deficit spending which is paid for by just printing more money. The resulting inflation hurts the entire country.

Even with these subsidies, domestically produced ethanol can’t compete with sugar-cane-based ethanol from Brazil unless it gets the 54-cent-per-gallon import tariff currently in place.

The logistics of oil transportation are a red herring to this discussion because those logistics costs are folded into the price of gas at the pump. What is more telling, though, is that making ethanol from corn consumes 29% more energy than the ethanol produced actually contains. This is the conclusion of researchers from Cornell University and UC Berkeley who determined that making ethanol from corn takes about 98,000 Btu/gallon produced, whereas ethanol contains only about 76,000 Btu/gallon. For comparison, a gallon of gasoline contains about 116,000 Btu, but making it — from drilling at the well, transportation, through refining — consumes about 22,000 Btu/gallon.

Finally, if it is a good thing to create 187 new jobs driving trucks in the production of an energy source that consumes more energy than it contains, then by the same logic 187,000 new jobs carrying teaspoons of the stuff would be even better. — Leland Teschler

Why is everybody wrapped around the axle of making ethanol?

Butanol is a much better alternative. It is a 1-for-1 replacement for gasoline and will mix with gasoline. And no engine modifications are necessary for regular gas engines. Butanol can also be made out of the same items that make ethanol but with a better yield. The same ton of dry feedstock it takes to make 100 gallons of ethanol would produce 133 gallons of butanol. That means 133 gallons of gas displaced instead of just the 50 gallons replaced by the ethanol.

Check out www.butanol.com along with the other Web sites.

Ralph Heady

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