Ethanol from corn is not just over-hyped, it is idiotic. There is not only a net loss of energy in its production, but no improvement in CO2 emissions if analyzed from well to wheels. Ethanol from sugar and perhaps commercially viable cellulosic ethanol are different stories. What we must do is to pursue a broad portfolio of alternative energy sources. Ethanol is not a panacea.
At the same time, the reality is that fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) currently supply 85% of the world's energy and 80% of the energy in the U.S. The most optimistic outlooks suggest that by 2030 maybe fossil fuels will supply "only", 70% of the world's energy, although the more likely scenario, due to economic growth and energy demand growth in the Third World (particularly China and India) is that it will still supply about 80%. Therefore, what we should be focusing on in the U.S. is opening our off-shore resources and all of Alaska to oil and gas exploration. By not doing so we allowing ourselves to be held hostage to unstable and unfriendly foreign oil producers. We will never have energy security unless we go after the resources within our own borders
The risk to the environment from Alaskan and off-shore exploration is essentially nil. There has not been a significant spill from a U.S. off-shore platform since 1969 and there has never been one that has done permanent damage to the environment. Brazil is an instructive example. Many people point to Brazil's ethanol program as a great success and, indeed, it has been. However, an even greater success has been Brazil's aggressive search for new off-shore oil and gas resources in the Santos Basin. Before its most recent discoveries of Tupi and Jupiter, PetroBras, the Brazilian national oil company, had doubled its proven reserves and production. With the discoveries of Tupi and Jupiter over the past few months, Brazil is likely to become a major oil and gas exporter. That's what is called "energy independence."
The U.S. should follow Brazil's example by wholeheartedly pursuing alternatives to oil and gas, while undertaking an aggressive off-shore oil and gas exploration program. Like it or not, fossil fuels constitute the world's major energy source and also the bridge to an energy future of alternative fuels. If we are serious about energy security and growing our economy (oil imports account for from one- quarter to one-third of the U.S. trade deficit) , we have no other choice.