The Tainted Grail of Brazilian Ethanol: Achieving Oil Independence but Who Has Borne the Cost and Paid the Price?
The Tainted Grail of Brazilian Ethanol: Achieving Oil Independence but W ho Has Borne the Cost and Paid the Price?
Sandra Dos Santos 0
0 The C UNY Law Review is published by the Office of Library Services at the City University of New York. For more information please contact , USA
* J.D. candidate, City University of New York School of Law, 2008. B.A.,
Georgetown University, 1992. Thank you to my family for instilling in me the value of
social justice and the importance of labor rights. Also, a huge thanks to Amanda
Allen, Molly Timko, and their editorial staff for their diligence and patience with this
piece. Lastly, amor e carinhoto the Brazilian sugarcane workers and their families who
continue to live without hope or opportunity yet manage to still have love in their
hearts for the rest of us. 0 povo unidojd mais serd vencido.
I Constituicdo Federal [C.F.] [Constitution], ch. VI, art. 225 (Braz.). Translated
by UNICA, Sdo Paolo Sugarcane Agroindustry Union, available at http://www.unica.
2 G.A. Res. 42/187, 2, U.N. Doc A/RES/42/187 (Dec. 11, 1987).
3 See, e.g.IS,ABELLA KENFIELD, CTR. FOR INT'L POLICY, BRAZIL'S ETHANOL PLAN
BREEDS RURAL POVERTY, ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION (2007),
http://americas.irconline.org/pdf/papers/0703ethanol.pdf; see alsoKelly Hearn, EthanolProductionCould
Be Eco-Disaster,Brazil's Critics Say, NAT'L GEOGRAPHIC NEWS, Feb. 8, 2007.
which has negatively impacted and irrevocably harmed identifiable
areas of the world.4 Communities most vulnerable to such
environmental impact are those caught at the intersection of agriculture,
forests, and urban sprawl.5 These communities have faced
numerous issues attributable to development efforts and changing
agricultural practices that include changing land management and
use, 6 detrimental labor conditions, political strife, and, tragically,
human rights abuses. 7
Through heavy state intervention, Brazil has become a
pio4 United Nations Statistical Division, http://unstats.un.org/unsd/ENVIRON
MENT/air greenhouseemissions.htm (last visited Oct. 2, 2007).
[G]reenhouse gases (GHG) refer to carbon dioxide (C02), methane
(CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). These three gases account for around
98% of the environmental pressure leading to climate change. Each of
these gases has a potential to trap heat in the atmosphere: i.e. methane
is twenty-one times more powerful as a GHG than C02, while N20 is
310 times more powerful ....
The Earth's average surface temperature rose by around 0.6°C dur
ing the 20th century and most scientific advisors to the world's
governments conclude that evidence is growing that most of the warming over
the last fifty years is attributable to human activities, such as burning of
fossil fuels and deforestation.
5 Danielle Murray, Analysis: Ethanol's Potential: Looking Beyond Corn, ENV'T NEWS
SERVICE, July 1, 2005, http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/jul2005/2005-07-01-02.asp.
6 See id.
7 Unfortunately, human rights abuses and concessions by foreign governments to
oil companies, including the United States oil sector, are legion. Although numerous
examples of such abuses have been exposed by claims brought under the Alien Tort
Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 (2006), there are two major cases exploring these issues:
(1) the military tribunal and hanging of Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, the
originator of the phrase "ecocide as genocide," and (2) the Unocal litigation related to the
atrocities committed in Burma. Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 226 F.3d 88 (2d
Cir. 2000); Doe I v. Unocal Corp., 395 F.3d 932 (9th Cir. 2002). In Wiwa, the Second
Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of claims by the plaintiffs, including
Saro-Wiwa's father, that they and their next-of-kin had been imprisoned, tortured and
killed by the Nigerian government at the behest of Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell
Oil because of their opposition to the companies' oil exploration activities. Wiwa, 226
F.3d at 92. In Doe, the Ninth Circuit overturned the district court's determination
that the plaintiffs, Burmese farmers, were barred from bringing suit against
California-based Unocal for various abuses by Burmese soldiers, including allegations of
slave trading, forced labor and rape, committed while the soldiers were guarding a gas
pipeline project that Unocal had partnered to construct and operate. Doe, 395 F.3d at
936-37. Doe was a groundbreaking case; the Ninth Circuit held that since the
plaintiffs had produced evidence that Unocal knew of and benefited from the soldiers'
abusive acts, the company could potentially be held liable for those acts even though
it had not actively participated in them. Id. at 941. The Court of Appeals stated in
forceful language that human rights abuses and crimes, usually levied by
governments, could also be committed by and charged to private, non-state actors. Id. at
neer in the quest for developing a reliable, cost-effective, and
reusable energy alternative to oil consumption. But at what cost has
Brazil achieved the energy equivalent of the "holy grail"? And,
have those costs been evenly distributed among Brazilian society?
Advocates of Brazil's sugarcane agribusiness and fuel ethanol
production have argued that this process is "a practical example of
sustainable development by combining the contributions to
environmental improvement, the exploration of local economic
vocations and the decentralized generation of employment and
income."8 However, with respect to the Brazilian production of
fuel ethanol, the application of the principles of sustainable
development have remained elusive with respect to what is meant by
The development of the Brazilian fuel ethanol industry has
sparked both workers' rights and environmental justice advocates
to question its impact on rural communities in terms of natural
resource use (e.g., soil erosion, depleting water supply, shifting
land use); air quality and public health; and the working
conditions of the rural labor force that has long provided the "muscle"
to produce Brazilian ethanol. Additionally, there is a more
entrenched problem with sugarcane cultivation that has its origins
long before Brazil became the leader in fuel ethanol production.
Before its independence, the sugarcane agricultural industry was
associated with most of the social and economic injustices that had
permeated the rural areas of Brazil.1" Issues of "labor exploitation
and land concentration" have long been part of the hidden
underbelly of Brazilian sugarcane cultivation and, with the advent of fuel
ethanol, clearly remain."' Some have suggested that the colonial
plantation model still remains even if under the guise of a
representative democracy. 12
Although this Comment does not attempt to address all the
issues associated with sustainable development,' 3 it does attempt to
8 UNICA, Uniao da Agroindustria Canavieira de Sao Paulo [Union of Sugarcane
Agro-Industry], http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/sociedade-desenvolvl.asp (last
visited Nov. 6, 2007). UNICA is a quasi-governmental agency representing the
sugarcane, sugar and alcohol business sectors in the Sao Paulo state, and includes within its
membership and oversight over 60% of the Brazilian ethanol production. Id.
9 Jos6 Goldemberg, Ethanolfor a Sustainable Energy Future, 315 SCIENCE 808, 808
(2007) ("The elusiveness of such a definition has led to unending discussions among
social scientists regarding the meaning of 'future generations."').
10 Kenfield, supra note 3, at 2.
13 Issues related to continued political disenfranchisement, societal poverty,
conintroduce into the dialogue issues that present opportunities for
environmental justice and workers' rights advocates to coalesce
and effect collaborative change in Brazil. Part I provides a broad
overview of the major issues surrounding our global energy supply,
the production process involved in creating fuel ethanol, and
Brazil's "successful" process to achieve oil independence.1 4 Part I also
includes future projections for the Brazilian ethanol production
industry. Part II describes the identifiable benefits that the
development of fuel ethanol has brought including how fuel ethanol has,
in large part, provided the residents of Brazil's major centers with
lower carbon dioxide emission levels, cleaner air, and presumably
healthier lives. Part II also explores some of the deficiencies in the
process that have negatively impacted Brazilian society overall, and
particularly the local residents, communities and ecosystems where
the sugarcane is grown and ethanol is developed.
communities, ethanol production has brought terrible working
conditions, poor health conditions, and harm to the natural ecosystems
through changing land and natural resource use; it has also
promoted instability among local communities. Part III attempts to
articulate and incorporate some of these benefits and deficiencies
into a workable cost-benefit analysis to assess the Brazilian ethanol
production industry and the impact it has had on its citizens, the
country as a whole, and the environment. Part IV attempts to draw
some conclusions and assess possible solutions and the role that
centration of wealth in a small percentage of Brazilian society, limited and differential
access to education, housing, and social services based on locale, and the implications
of foreign investment and trade are not the focus of this Comment. Of course, these
are issues relevant to the overall question of whether Brazil has acted in accordance
with the principles of sustainable development in its energy policies and ethanol
14 Brazilian Law No. 2.004 sanctioned on October 3, 1953, established the state's
monopoly in key sectors of oil production including the refining of both domestically
produced and imported oil. Soleis-Legislaizdo Federal, http://www.soleis.adv.br/
(click on link "LEIS POR ASSUNTO," then click on "P," then click on
"PetrobrdsObjeto"), amended and supercededby Law No. 9.478, enacted Aug. 6, 1997 and Law No.
11.540, enacted Nov. 12, 2007 (last visited Jan. 31, 2008). On March 12, 1954,
Petr6leo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), the nationalized company operating this oil
production monopoly, was established. About Petrobras, http://www2.petrobras.com.
br/Petrobras/ingles/historia/pop/lei/p_lei2004.htm (last visited Jan. 31, 2008).
Among its activities, Petrobras has been engaged in off-shore rigging for over twenty
years. About Petrobras, http://www2.petrobras.com.br/ingles/ads/adsPetrobras.
html (click on link "self-sufficiency") (last visited Jan. 31, 2008). Within that time at
least thirty-five oil workers have been killed at Petrobas facilities, thirty-four others
were killed in an oil platform explosion, and approximately five million liters of oil
have been spilled. Race to Stop Oil RigDisaster,BBC NEws, Mar. 17, 2001, http://news.
bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1227193.stm. Estimates are that, to date, Petrobras has
paid close to $140 million in fines related to these incidents. Id.
environmental justice could play in the evolving debate concerning
Brazilian ethanol production.
THE BRAZILIAN SUCCESS: PRODUCING ETHANOL FUEL AND
ACHIEVING OIL INDEPENDENCE
Brazil's record shows that it is possible to combatpoverty,
advanceindustrial development and develop economically and socially while reducing
airpollution and improving air quality.
Stronggovernmentalprogrammes to control vehicle airpollution coupled with extensive use of biofuels
have greatly reduced pollutionfrom carbon monoxide, lead and sulfate
compounds in our cities. At the same time, our industries have been
moving towards more sustainable and cleaner production processes.1 5
Rural poverty has always been intrinsically related to the economy of
sugarcane.Even in the 1970s, when Pernambuco was the largest
nationalproducerof sugarcane,the levels ofpoverty were amongst the
highest in the world.16
There is, perhaps more than ever before, a sense of urgency to
develop and implement cost-effective and reliable alternatives to
reduce reliance on foreign oil and other fossil fuels."v Fossil fuels
account for approximately 80% of our global energy supply,"' and
our global consumption of crude oil specifically is 42% of the
world's total energy consumption.1 9 Collectively, "renewable"
energy makes up nearly 14% of both the world's supply and
consumpion. 2° Looking beyond the geopolitical concerns regarding
15 Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, Ambassador, Federative Republic of Brazil,
Statement at the Fifteenth Meeting of the Comm'n on Sustainable Dev., United Nations
(May 10, 2007), availableat http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csd15/statements/
16 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 2 (quoting Marluce Melo of the Pastoral Land
Commission (CPT) located in the northern Brazilian city of Recife, Pernambuco).
17 Murray, supra note 5; Peter Baker & Bill Brubaker, Bush Hails
InternationalEthanol Production,WASH. POST, Mar. 9, 2007, available at
www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2007/3/9/AR2007030900767-pf.html (quoting Brazilian
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as saying that he was "almost obsessed by biofuel").
18 Oil, coal, and gas currently make up approximately 34%, 25%, and 21%,
respectively, of the global energy supply. INT'L ENERGY AGENCY, KEY WORLD ENERGY
STATISTICS 6 (2006), available at http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2006/key2006.
pdf [hereinafter lEA] (reporting based on 2004 figures that calculated the total world
energy supply at 11,059 Mega tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe)).
19 Id. at 28 (reporting that in 2004, 7,644 Mtoe were consumed globally).
20 Id. at 6, 28.
oil-producing countries,2 ' there is the looming reality of the finite
nature of fossil fuels that at some point must be taken into account,
as well as the environmental and social costs attributable to strict
reliance on fossil fuels. Specifically, our dependence on fossil fuels
has increased the overall level of carbon dioxide 22 and caused
global warming that has created climate change.
Fossil fuels are accurately characterized as "exhaustible," and
currently these exhaustible fossil fuels constitute approximately
80% of the global energy supply. 23 Given the finite limitations of
fossil fuels, if the production and consumption levels remain
constant, our situation will be grave. 24 Assuming that the rate of
production and consumption remain constant and do not increase,
the known reserves of oil are expected to yield for only another
forty-one years, natural gas reserves for a slightly longer sixty-four
years, and coal reserves for another 155 years. 25 Some critics of
unabated fossil fuel consumption also point to the increased
production costs that are likely to ensue as we near exhaustion of our
fossil fuel reserves. 26 These would presumably hasten the
depletion of our reserves.
21 Whether the issue is framed as "the instability existing within the major
oil-producing countries" or the "security of supply," it seems that most countries are looking
for alternatives to strict reliance on gasoline because of a growing discomfort with
dependence on oil, specifically oil exported from the Middle East. See RENEWABLE
FUELS Ass'N, HOMEGROWN FOR THE HOMELAND: ETHANOL INDUSTRY OUTLOOK 2005 6
(2005) [hereinafter RFA]. There is an entrenched concern over the political
instability of the region, and disruption of the "flow of oil" from terrorist and "sabotage
attacks." Id. For many oil importing companies these disruptions and lack of stability
have created an additional "risk premium" that has added to the price of oil. Id. The
current situation is probably even more precarious as populous developing and
expanding nations, especially China and India, have been at the forefront of the
increased worldwide demand for oil. Id. The wake-up call came in 2004, when oil
prices hit a then world high of over fifty dollars a barrel. Id. In the United States, the
demand continues to exceed the domestic supply. Id. The result is ever-growing
imports to meet this demand, coupled with record prices for a gallon of gasoline. Id. See
also IEA, supra note 18, at 10-11 (reporting that in 2005, the Middle East was the
largest producer of crude oil by region with nearly 31% of the world's production;
Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran produced 13.2% and 5.2%, respectively
of the world's crude oil).
22 IEA, supra note 18, at 44 (reporting that from 1973 to 2004 total carbon dioxide
emissions increased from 15,661 to 26,583 Mega tones (Mt) and the percentage
attributable to oil decreased from 51% (7987 Mt) to 40% (10,633 Mt)).
23 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808.
25 Id. ("[F]ossil fuels cannot be considered as the world's main source of energy
for more than one or two generations.").
26 Id. ("[P]roduction costs will increase as reserves approach exhaustion and as
more expensive technologies are used to explore and extract less attractive
The finite nature of fossil fuels, coupled with the instability of
the Middle East,27 and the social and environmental costs of fossil
fuel dependence have added to the allure of renewable energy.
Ethanol fuel is heavily linked to the societal concern of decreasing
overall greenhouse gas emissions as well as the broader issues of
"climate control," including that of global warming.28 Advocates of
ethanol-fueled cars opine that the carbon introduced into the
atmosphere by ethanol-powered cars is preferable to that of
gasolinepowered cars, because in theory there are "no net emissions. 29
Of the three grades of ethanol, fuel grade ethanol is the most
widely produced grade.3 ° In 2004, almost eleven billion gallons of
ethanol were produced globally, eight billion of which was fuel
ethanol.3' UNICA, the Sdo Paolo Sugarcane Agroindustry Union,3 2
reports lower current numbers of 9.25 billion gallons (thirty-five
billion liters) for total ethanol production, and only 5.55 billion
gallons (twenty-one billion liters) for fuel ethanol. 3 Ethanol can
be produced from various plant-based feed stocks, the most
common being those from grain or sugar crops.3 4 Ethanol powers
automotive engines in one of two ways.35 It can either completely
replace gasoline in specially designed internal combustion engines,
or it is effective as an "octane booster,"3 6 or fuel extender, when
mixed with gasoline in blends of 5% to 30%.38 Ethanol-gasoline
blends require no modification to automobile engines and
27 Id. at 809 (Certainly Brazil, when first launching its Prodilcool program in the
mid-1970s, was motivated in large part by the desire to reduce oil imports.).
28 Id. at 808.
29 Emma Marris, Drink the Best and Drive the Rest, 444 NATURE 670, 670 (2006)
(reasoning that carbon emissions from gasoline come exclusively from fossil reserves,
while the carbon emissions from ethanol were carbon that had previously existed in
the atmosphere "justa couple of years ago, before the sugar cane got hold of it and
worked its photosynthetic miracle"); Murray, supra note 5.
30 RFA, supra note 21, at 14. The other two grades of ethanol are beverage and
31 Id. (reporting that of the approximately eleven billion gallons of ethanol
produced, 73% was fuel ethanol, with beverage and industrial ethanol only 17% and
32 UNICA, supra note 8.
33 UNICA, http://www.portalunica.com.br/portalunicaenglish/index.php?Secao=
(last visited Oct. 30, 2007) (reporting that global production of ethanol is at thirty-five
billion liters per year with 60% used as fuel).
34 Murray, supra note 5.
35 Christoph Berg, WORLD FUEL ETHANOL ANALYSIS AND OUTLOOK (2004), available
37 Murray, supra note 5 (describing use of ethanol in gasoline vehicles).
38 Berg, supra note 35 (noting that although ethanol mixes easily with gasoline, it
"achieve the same octane boosting or anti-knock effect as
petroleum-derived aromatics like benzene or metallic additives like
The History of Brazilian Ethanol Production: Subsidiesfor the
Producers and the Consumers
The history of Brazilian ethanol production dates back to
1903, when the sugar industry began producing ethanol as a way of
insulating itself from fluctuations in the international sugar
market, but did not begin in earnest until 1975.40 In 1975, the
Brazilian military government responded to increased high oil prices by
launching the Prodlcool program as a way to replace gasoline with
ethanol.4' The Prodlcool program incorporated both incentives to
encourage ethanol production and subsidies to lower ethanol
prices for consumers. 42 Some Brazilian officials43 have described
the early trajectories as a "learning curve," as ethanol production
increased an average of 6% per year while the costs of production
declined.44 While production costs were decreasing, the costs "at
the pump" for consumers were also heavily subsidized, usually in
the form of state-controlled prices and consumer taxes, so as to
favor consumption of fuel ethanol instead of gasoline.45 The
Prolcool program also mandated the type and percentages of
ethanol and gasoline that were offered on the consumer fuel market.
In 1975, a 22%-25% ethanol-gasoline blend was mandated in the
does not blend easily with diesel and can require emulsifiers if the "diesohol blend" is
to obtain more than 3% ethanol).
39 Id.; see also Murray, supranote 5 (noting that ethanol can be used alone in
"flexible-fuel vehicles" that run on any blend of ethanol and gasoline).
40 See ENVTL. AND ENERGY STUDY INST. (EESI), ECO: ETHANOL CLIMATE PROT. OIL
REDUCTION: A PUBLIC FORUM 2 (2001) (hereinafter EESI].
41 Berg, supra note 35; Murray, supra note 5. In 1975, PROALCOOL, Brazil's
National Alcohol Program, was launched to reduce Brazil's dependence on foreign oil.
MARCUS RENATO XAVIER, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE, THE BRAZILIAN
SUGARCANE ETHANOL EXPERIENCE 4 (2007), http://www.cei.org/pdf/5774.pdf. At that
point, 80% of the oil in Brazil was imported, and "the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and
production cutback had raised concerns that oil dependency could endanger
national security." Id.; see also Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809 (explaining that the
Brazilian government was motivated "to reduce oil imports that were consuming
onehalf of the total amount of hard currency from exports").
42 Berg, supra note 35.
43 ProfessorJos6 Goldemberg is the Secretary of the Environment for Government
of the State of Sao Paolo.
44 Goldemberg, supranote 9, at 809
(reporting that production increased from 0.9
billion gallons of ethanol in 1980 to three billion gallons in 1990 to 4.2 billion gallons
45 Id. (stating that the real cost to a consumer for ethanol fuel in 1980 was roughly
three times that of gasoline, but the price differences were subsidized).
Brazilian market, and then in 1979 a pure ethanol was introduced
into the automotive fuel market.46 The Brazilian government also
put into place incentives to encourage automobile manufacturers
to produce engines that could run on 100% "pure hydrated
It has been estimated that these various consumer and
producer subsidies totaled approximately $30 billion over twenty
years,48 with $12.3 billion spent in the years between 1975 and
1989, primarily in agricultural and industrial sector investments. 49
Supporters of the Prodlcool program argue that this cost was more
than offset by the $50 billion decrease in oil imports as of the end
of 2006.50 Although the government at the time amounted to a
"military regime," these mandatory regulations are now viewed as
having been key to both the "success" of the ethanol production
program, 51 and to enabling the implementation of democratic
C. The CurrentBrazilian Sugarcane and Ethanol Agribusiness
Today, approximately 40% of the fuel sold in Brazil includes
ethanol. 52 Estimates are that a quarter of the fuel used in Brazilian
ground transportation is sugarcane-derived ethanol. 53 Current
production estimates are that Brazil produces 10.4 billion liters/
year, of which approximately 62% are produced in the state of Sdo
Paulo.54 Much of the "success" of the ethanol production program
in Brazil is at least partially dependent on the strength of the
"flexfuel cars '55 that predominate the Brazilian automobile consumer
market. 56 Since Ford and Volkswagen first launched flex-fuel
prototypes in 2002, the percentage of new automobiles bought in
Brazil has been steadily increasing to current estimates of 73% to
80%. As of 2007, there are approximately 23 million automobiles
in Brazil for the 49.1 million households, an average of 0.47
vehicles per household.5 8 It is estimated that as many as three million
automobiles in Brazil run on one form of ethanol, hydrated
alcohol, and that the other form, annydrous alcohol, is added to yield
the 22% blended gasoline sold in Brazil.5 9
Brazilian cars have much smaller motors than their American
counterparts.6" Ethanol yields fewer miles (or kilometers) per
gallon (or liter) than regular or regularly blended gasoline. 6' The
consumer appeal of a flex-fuel car is that an owner can constantly
choose between "neat ethanol," and the "regular" (i.e.,
gasolineethanol blended) gasohol based on the current prices and any
applicable local tax rates.6 2 While some pundits have lauded the
freedom of switching back and forth as one drives through Brazil,6"
some critics have noted that, without any price subsidy, ethanol is
only price-competitive for Brazilian drivers "when it costs no more
than 70 percent of the price of gasoline."64 The farther away from
alcoolalcoolcombustivel.asp (last visited Jan. 31, 2008) (estimating that within the
last twenty-two years, $1.8 billion per year was saved by replacing gasoline with fuel
ethanol, the "equivalent to 200 thousand barrels of gasoline/day").
57 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 6
(noting that in March 2004, 16% of all new
automobiles sold in Brazil were flex-fuel cars, and that by February 2006 that figure had
increased to 73%)
; Unido da Agroinddistria Canavierira de Sdo Paulo (UNICA),
ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL: EVOLUTION, PRESENT SITUATION AND FUTURE
POSSIBILITIES (2006) [hereinafter ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL] (reporting
that as of May 2005, 80% of all new cars sold in Brazil were flex-fuel cars); Brazil
Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated,"MAIL & GUARDIAN ONLINE, Mar. 22, 2007, http://www.
id=302675 ("More than four out of five new cars in Brazil can run on ethanol, either
mixed with gasoline or pure."); Stan Lehman, BrazilPolice Battle Bush Protesters,WASH.
POST, Mar. 9, 2007 (stating that President George W. Bush approved of Brazil's
ethanol program, which he noted "powers eight out of every 10 new Brazilian cars.").
58 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 3. In stark contrast, the average automobile to
household ratio in the United States is 1.9 vehicles per household; in addition, there are
204 million vehicles for 107 million households. Id.
59 UNICA, A Clean and Renewable Fuel, http://www.unica.com.br/i_pages/
alcoolalcoolcombustivel.asp (last visited Sept. 18, 2007).
60 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 3.
61 Id. at 8; Marris, supranote 29, at 670 (reporting a lower distance yield of
approximately 20% to 30% fewer kilometres to the litre); Robert F. Service, CellulosicEthanol:
Biofuel ResearchersPrepareto Reap a New Harvest,315 SCIENCE 1488, 1488 (2007) (noting
that in the United States, ethanol gave way to "cheap and plentiful gasoline" which
yields "30% more energy per gallon than ethanol does").
62 Marris, supra note 29, at 670.
64 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 9.
production areas, the less price-competitive ethanol becomes.65 A
city like Rio de Janeiro, or other areas in the North and Northeast
of Brazil, is economically precluded from selecting ethanol
because of the high transportation costs and lack of economic
viability of ethanol.66 Others have noted possible manufacturer
reluctance to produce ethanol-only vehicles and diminishing sales
of ethanol fuel as signs of a possible decline in the Brazilian
domestic ethanol market. 67 Despite this, the future plans for Brazil
include the extension of the flex-fuel technology to encompass and
include all light vehicles.6"
Increasingly, the Brazilian government has rolled back the
state-sponsored subsidies and incentives that have impacted both
the ethanol production and consumption markets. The price
subsidies on ethanol have been "progressively removed" since the
1990s, and as of 2004, ethanol and gasoline have been "fully
competitive" with one another on the "international market" without
the benefit of government assistance. 69 Due to both economies of
scale and modern advances in process and equipment technology,
production subsidies "are a thing of the past in Brazil. '70 It should
be interesting to note whether the Brazilian "freedom of choice"
between ethanol and gasoline by the consumer at the pump will
continue when faced with more market-driven prices.
D. Brazil: The "Success" Lies in the Process
No other country in the world has an ethanol production
scheme rivaling that of Brazil. 7' Even the United States, with its
established ethanol production process relying exclusively on corn,
65 See generally id.
67 EESI, supra note 40, at 2.
68 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 6; see also ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra
note 57 (stating that the current fleet of Brazilian light vehicles is estimated at
twentytwo million; current estimates are that ethanol is used in roughly 41% of the fuel used
to run the light vehicle fleet).
69 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809.
70 Id. The technological advances in terms of equipment include "the use of
highpressure boilers that allow cogeneration of electricity," which result in energy
"surpluses sold to the electric power grid" affording ethanol production plants revenue
from not only the ethanol itself but from the surplus energy generated through the
burning of the bagasse. Id.
71 Murray, supra note 5 (reporting that Brazil led world ethanol production in
2004, with the United States, China, India and France close behind, respectively).
China produced nearly one billion gallons of ethanol primarily from its wheat and
corn rich provinces; India produced 500 million gallons of ethanol made from
sugarcane; and France, "the front-runner" within the European Union, produced over 200
million gallons from sugar beets and wheat. Id.
yields no more than 3.5 billion gallons 2 and at a much higher cost
per yield of energy.73 Brazil is the clear leader in the global market
for the production of sugarcane (33.9%), sugar (18.5%) and
ethanol (36.4%).7 Of the total sugarcane available for crushing in
Brazil, 45% is used for sugar production, while 55% is used for ethanol
production.7 5 Reported figures state that between 1990 and 1997,
Brazil produced between 11.5 to 12.5 billion liters of ethanol.7 6
From 1996 to 1998, the production of ethanol peaked from over
fourteen billion to nearly 15.5 billion liters.7 7 Reported figures
from 1998 to 2002 indicate a decrease from nearly fourteen billion
to just over 11.5 billion liters. 8 Still, by 2004, Brazil was already the
world's leader in the distillation of ethanol at four billion gallons
(fifteen billion liters) per day. 79 Two years later, this figure
increased to 4.2 billion gallons8. 0 It is speculated that in 2007, Brazil
will have produced 4.4 billion gallons (16.5 billion liters)."'
Currently, Brazil is also the largest exporter of both sugar and
Despite criticisms of the ethanol program in terms of its harm
to rural communities, issues of changing land-management,
human rights abuses, and worker mistreatment, it has the potential
to create a locally-produced, renewable fuel source that enables
countries to lower their dependence on oil imports, to improve
trade imbalances with other nations that are also seeking to wean
themselves from oil, and to diversify their own energy portfolios-a
potential that Brazil has embraced.8"
The "success" of the Brazilian ethanol production can in many
ways be explained by looking at Brazil's relative success in meeting
"three key success factors": the abundance and inexpensive cost of
the sugarcane; the closed loop process and technology involved;
and a supportive state and political framework."4 With a thirty-year
history of production, the Brazilian ethanol production has
achieved the status of a "global energy commodity that is fully
competitive with motor gasoline and appropriate for replication in
many countries."85 The questions for both environmental justice
and labor rights advocates are whether this replication is in fact
appropriate and, if not, how replication of this model would
impact those regions and communities.
Few countries are as uniquely situated as Brazil is to take
advantage of the accurately characterized "simplicity" of the
sugarcane-based ethanol production process.8 6 Sugarcane is crushed to
extract a sucrose solution that is then fermented along with yeast
into alcohol.87 This alcohol is then distilled to the "desired
concentration."8 8 In Brazil, this production process is powered by
burning the "bagasse," the fibrous pulp left over when the sugar is
squeezed from the cane.89 Current figures indicate that bagasse
and straw produce approximately 100 million tons of usable
waste.9" This "waste" is considered to be one of the significant
advantages of sugarcane-based ethanol since it too can be used as
83 Murray, supra note 5.
84 Berg, supra note 35.
85 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808.
86 See generallyMarris, supra note 29, at 670 ("Brazil's tropical sun makes it a great
place for growing sugar cane: it is the largest cane producer in the world, producing
more than twice as much as the number two, India.").
87 Id.; see also Service, supra note 61, at 1489 (explaining that starch is "a
straightforward polymer of glucose that is easily broken down by enzymes").
88 Marris, supra note 29, at 670.
89 Id.; see alsoJos6 E. D. Cangado et al., The Impact of Sugar Cane-BurningEmissions
on the Respiratory System of Children and the Elderly, 114 EN-vri.. HEALTH PERSP. 725, 728
(2006) (citing the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry's 2005 report that approximately
80% of the sugarcane crops are burned annually as part of the harvesting process).
9o XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7 (explaining that the waste can be used as fuel for
heat and power generation).
fuel-the fuel that drives the process.9 1 This use of sugarcane, as
both the raw material for fuel ethanol and the fuel that powers the
process, is the reason the Brazilian ethanol production process is
so often referred to as a "closed one."9 2 This burning of the
bagasse, however, has its own price. The issue of environmental and
health problems for the rural communities where production
occurs, and for the sugarcane cutters and workers who labor in the
process, is certainly not lauded or even discussed among ethanol
E. Plansfor the Future: Increased Production and Exportation
The consensus among Brazilian political and economic
leaders is that as more countries and states begin to address the issues
surrounding foreign-oil, greenhouse gases, air pollution, and
declining public health, the demand for Brazilian fuel ethanol will
increasingly be thought of as a solution to these problems.9 4
Reports from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture indicate that Brazil
is projected to increase production of fuel ethanol to 442,000
barrels a day by 2010." 5 In June of 2006, UNICA reported that
fortyone new mills were being built and another fifty more were in an
evaluation phase.9 6 The projected increase in ethanol production
from these ninety-one new operations could be as high as 50%. 7
91 See id.
92 See generally Marris, supra note 29, at 670 ("Put the alcohol into your gas tank
and you are effectively driving it on sunlight."); XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7. Brazilian
distilleries and mills are nearly self-sufficient in terms of the energy required to fuel
operations. Id. The energy generated from the bagasse affords an opportunity to sell
surplus electricity. Id.
93 Tom Phillips, Brazil's Ethanol Slaves: 200,000 Migrant Sugar Cutters Who Prop Up
Renewable Energy Boom, THE GUARDIAN (London), Mar. 9, 2007, available at http://
www.guardian.co.uk/brazil/story/0,,2029962,00.html. Phillips reports on the "much
bleaker picture" of ethanol production, where "thick green plantations of sugar cane
stretch out as far as the eye can see" on one side of the road, and on the other:
lopsided red-brick shacks crowd together, home to hundreds of
impoverished workers ...working 12-hour shifts in scorching heat and
earningjust over 50p [pence] per tonne of sugar cane cut, before returning
to squalid, overcrowded "guest houses" rented to them at extortionate
prices by unscrupulous landlords, often ex-sugar cutters themselves.
Id.; see also 1,000 Laborers at PlantationRescued, L.A. TIMES, July 4, 2007, at A8.
94 EESI, supra note 40, at 2-3 (noting that in Mexico, Canada, European Union,
France, Netherlands, Sweden and Spain there is a growing interest and support
among political leaders for the use of ethanol as a gasoline alternative).
95 Marris, supra note 29 (noting that in 2005, Brazil produced 282,000 barrels
(forty-five million liters) a day).
96 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57.
Petrobas, the Brazilian state-controlled oil giant, is at the forefront
of this push to expand the current levels of ethanol production.
In a recently revealed project, developed cooperatively by the
University of Campinas in Sdo Paolo and the Ministry of Science
and Technology, Brazil is striving for an ethanol production
increase with the goal of replacing 10% of the world's demand for
gasoline within the next twenty years.98 This would mean
increasing the roughly three billion liters (660,000 gallons) currently
exported to 200 billion liters (forty-four billion gallons) over the
course of twenty years,99 an increase of nearly 670%.1" ° The
estimated cost to do this would be $10 billion per year for the first four
to five years, and then diminishing costs until the last seven to eight
years when the return on investment would begin to cover the
costs.'01 In other reports, Petrobas stated that Brazilian ethanol
production can be increased "15 times over five years," and, to ease
the concern of environmental groups, this could be done "without
further destruction of the Amazon or harming food
production."' 10 2
In addition, there are calls from Brazilian interests and others
to invest and implement new technologies within the biofuels
industry to increase ethanol production by improving the process,
potentially chilling criticisms by environmental advocates over
certain aspects of ethanol production and its impact on rural
communities and land use in Brazil. The Brazilian ethanol industry
envisions that over the next two decades, the implementation of
"bio-refineries" to fully utilize the potential of the baggasse, waste,
and currently unused sucrose will enable much of these increased
target goals.10 3 According to these groups, there already exists a
global interest in developing the technology by which energy and
fuel can be derived from the hydrolysis or gasification of
biomass.'0 4 Advocates of these technologies note that once these
technologies are implemented and working in Brazil, they can and
should be implemented in other countries that are similarly
situated in terms of climate and ability to cultivate sugarcane in these
98 Agency France-Presse, If Increased BrazilianEthanolProduction Could Replace 10%
of Global Gasoline,INDUSTRY WEEK, Feb. 15, 2007, available athttp://www.industryweek.
com/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticlelD=13610&SectionlD=2 [hereinafter INDUSTRY WEEK].
100 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1.
101 INDUSTRY WEEK, supra note 98.
102 Brazil Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated," supranote 57.
103 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57.
quantities.15 Often the rhetoric of sustainable development is
used as the justification.'0 6
The Brazilian government also has plans for increased export
of ethanol production." 7 Current estimates show that although
80% of Brazil's ethanol production is for domestic use, production
for exports will continue to increase."0 ' Production intended for
both domestic use and export abroad has increased in the last
decade.1 °9 In 2006, Brazil exported roughly 19% of the sixteen billion
liters produced, thereby supplying the world with 70% of its
ethanol supply. 1 0 It is estimated that by 2010, Brazilian companies will
have invested roughly $10 billion to create dozens of new sugar
mills to ramp up ethanol production with a goal of doubling the
current export levels.11 1 Despite arguments to the contrary, this
targeted increase would require an increase in current land used to
grow sugarcane. Estimates are that the current level of six million
hectares will need to be increased to thirty million hectares.1 12
105 See Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809 ("Production of ethanol from sugarcane
can be replicated in other countries without serious damage to natural ecosystems.").
106 UNICA, Energy and Sustainability: Sugar Cane Ethanol-Commodity of the 21st
Century (Sept. 19, 2005), http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/files/energy-sugar.pdf.
The time has come for renewable energy: humanity realizes that there is
an obligation to recognize the properties of fuels recovered from newly
reaped vegetable material.... Such orientation is clear in the provisions
of the Kyoto Protocol, which is already in force. There, the matters
pertaining to climate changes, income generation in developing countries,
efficient use of non-renewable energy sources ....
We want to be important participants in the greatest operation ever
designed by humans to make our planet habitable for future generations:
to make the dream reflected in the Kyoto Protocol goals come true by
multiplying the use of ethanol.
107 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1.
108 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7.
109 RFA, supra note 21, at 15. In 2004, Brazil exported 634 million gallons of
ethanol. Id. India and the U.S. are the leading buyers importing 125 and 112 million
gallons of ethanol, respectively. Id. South Korea and Japan imported sixty-three and
fifty-five million gallons, respectively, and Sweden and the Netherlands imported
fiftytwo and forty-one million gallons, respectively. Id.
110 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1.
111 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7.
112 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1; see also Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809.
A simple calculation shows that expanding the Brazilian ethanol
program by a factor of 10 (i.e., an additional 30 million hectares of
sugarcane in Brazil and in other countries) would supply enough ethanol to
replace 10% of the gasoline used in the world. This land area is a small
fraction of the more than 1 billion hectares of primary crops already
harvested on the planet.
This projected increase is one of the most contentious areas of the
ethanol debate as this may require some encroachment upon and
use of Brazilian natural forests for the growing of food crops.11 3
Certainly, foreign investors have given the Brazilian ethanol
production process and agribusiness heavy consideration,14 much
to the dismay and fear of environmental justice and worker
advocates.1 15 Some critics who have pointed to a waning domestic
market have suggested that Brazil could be using its market position as
the undisputed ethanol leader as economic leverage to not only
increase exports, but also to market its ethanol "expertise"
abroad) 16 The United States is the largest importer of ethanol
from Brazil. 17 In 2006, Brazil exported 1.74 billion liters to the
United States; this represented 58% of the total Brazilian export
figure of three billion liters."' Research suggests that President
Bush's targeted reduction of gasoline consumption in the United
States will require approximately 135 billion liters of increased
ethanol per year."1 9 This could be a boon to Brazil's ethanol
production market and expansion plans. Perhaps most importantly, the
Brazilian government in 2006 could arguably have claimed to have
achieved its ultimate goal of "oil self-sufficiency," 120 but the
question remains: at what price and who among Brazilian society has
paid that price?
113 See Murray, supra note 5 (discussing how an increase in land area for ethanol
production may negatively impact already diminishing rainforests).
114 See FINANCE, PRIVATE SECTOR AND INFRASTRUCTURE MGMT. UNIF OF THE WORLD
BANK, HOW TO REVITALIZE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENTS IN BRAZIL: PUBLIC POLICIES
FOR BETTER PRIVATE PARTICIPATION 5 (Report No. 36634-BR) (Jan. 10, 2007) (stating
that improvements to Brazil's infrastructure will necessitate a strengthening of private
sector confidence that will require a reduction of costs of capital and curbing of
115 Kenfield, supra note 3, at 3.
116 EESI, supra note 40, at 2 (reporting that Brazil and Thailand entered into an
agreement in 2001 by which Brazil will provide technical expertise and assistance to
help Thailand meet its domestic production goal of two million liters (520,000
gallons) per day by the end of 2002); id. at 2-3 (reporting that Ford Motor Company
and Thailand's National Science and Technology Development Administration
joined forces in 2001 to promote ethanol production in Thailand "as a means of
curbing the nation's reliance on foreign oil, while boosting domestic crop prices ...
[and to] examine which technologies are most cost-effective and environmentally
sound for ethanol production in Thailand.").
117 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1.
120 See Associated Press, Brazil Oil Agency Chief Says Offshore Field Could Nearly Triple
Nation's Reserves, INT'L HERALD TRIB., Apr. 14, 2008, availableat http://www.iht.com/
THE ETHANOL TRAP: IMPROVING AIR QUALITY IN URBAN
CENTERS WHILE INCREASING AIR POLLUTION AND PUBLIC
HEALTH CONCERNS IN RURAL COMMUNITIES
In Brazil, our experience over the last thirty years with biofuels as an
energy source, which began with the Ethanol Program and continues
today with the BrazilianBiodiesel program, illustrates the potential that
I am referringto.... [T]hese policies have resultedin the decrease in the
importation of oil and oil derivatives, reduced dependency onfuels from
other countries, significantjob creation, income generation in semi-arid
regions, and the introductionof new crop combinations to these areas. It
is important to emphasize that these policies are highly replicable in other
countries.1 2 1
Most of the expansion required will affect the Cerradoecosystem and the
Amazon, which are already being destroyed because of cattle ranching
and soybean farming .... This displacement effect is not hypothetical
.... Sdo Paulo used to be one of the most important cattle regions in
Brazil. Now sugarcanehas replaced it and pushed cattle to otherplaces
in the Cerradoand Amazon.' 22
The development of the Brazilian ethanol production and
sugarcane agribusiness has yielded many benefits for Brazil, its
citizens, and possibly for future generations that will partake in a
cleaner environment. 12' There is the decreased dependence on oil
imports124 and the policy implications and advantages that might
be derived from that decreased dependence. 12 There is "a
positive net energy balance," which means that the energy contained in
a given quantity of ethanol is greater than the energy required to
produce that amount. 126 The possibly less harmful impact on the
local environment, resulting from ethanol consumption, may also
improve overall public health levels. 1 27 Arguments have also been
made that ethanol production will benefit traditionally
disadvan121 Claudio Langone, Exec. Sec'y, Braz. Ministry of the Env't, Statement at the U.N.
Commission on Sustainable Development, 14th Session, New York (May 10-12, 2006),
availableat www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csdl 4/statements/brazil-12may.pdf.
122 Hearn, supra note 3 (quoting Leonardo Lacerda, advocate with the Brazilian
chapter of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)).
123 See Berg, supra note 35; Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808.
124 See generally Berg, supra note 35 (noting that reducing dependence on oil
imports is one of several reasons for the success of fuel ethanol).
125 Guto Harri, Brazil's Sugar Crop Fuels Nation's Cars, BBC NEWS, Feb. 15, 2006,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4715332.stm (reporting that the Brazilian
sugar industry was able to cut $400 billion in oil imports and questioning where those
saved monies could be spent).
126 Berg, supranote 35 (noting that the energy contained in one tonne of ethanol is
greater than the energy required to produce one tonne).
127 See Berg, supra note 35.
taged rural areas by creating more jobs12 ' and paving the way for
sustained development.129 Lastly, advocates of biotechnology
generally argue that the research and investment in ethanol
production will not only result in improved ethanol fuel and
infrastructure, but also in improvements in the overall biomass
technology and sector. 3 °
Where BraziliansDrive Their Cars:Ethanol Fuel Limits Greenhouse
Gas Emissions and Helps Combat Global Warming and
Use of ethanol fuel instead of regular gasoline will absolutely
curb the level of carbon dioxide emissions in a given area.'3 1 This
will, in turn, reduce the overall level of greenhouse gases, 132 and
improve the general public health and well-being of the given
community or area. Some ethanol advocates also argue that use of
biofuel energy forecloses additional greenhouse gases into the
atmosphere, 13 3 and reduces overall air pollution since no new
greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere and emission of
fine particulates, sulfur, and lead, commonly in the atmosphere
from fossil fuel burning emissions, will be reduced."'
129 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808 ("Renewable energy is one of the most
efficient ways to achieve sustainable development.").
130 See Berg, supra note 35; U.S. DEP'T OF ENERGY, DOE/sc-0095, BREAKING THE
BIOLOGICAL BARRIERS TO CELLULOSIC ETHANOL: AJOINT RESEARCH AGENDA (2006),
available at http://genomicsgtl.energy.gov/biofuels/2005workshop/b2blowres63006.pdf;
COMM'N OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES, RENEWABLE ENERGY ROAD MAP, RENEWABLE
ENERGIES IN THE 21sT CENTURY: BUILDING A MORE SUSTAINABLE FUTURE (2007),
available at http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy-policy/doc/O3-renewable-energy-road
map-en.pdf; BIOFUELS RESEARCH ADVISORY COUNCIL, EUROPEAN COMM'N, BIOFUELS IN
THE EUROPEAN UNION: A VISION FOR 2030 AND BEYOND (2006), available at http://
131 See Hearn, supra note 3 ("Biofuel is widely considered a way to reduce
greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use and thereby reduce human-caused global warming.").
132 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57 (reporting that current
projections suggest that ethanol production, with its 8:1 energy yield to energy used
to produce, can reduce overall greenhouse emissions by as much as 13%).
133 See Murray, supra note 5 (noting that as sugarcane, or another biofuel crop
grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which will be offset by the
future greenhouse emissions when the fuel is burned but with no net addition); see
generally Marris, supra note 29, at 670.
134 See Murray, supranote 5; Goldemberg, supranote 9, at 809 ("Renewables are less
polluting, both in terms of local emissions (such as particulates, sulfur, and lead) and
greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) that cause global warming."); see also
RFA, supra note 21, at 12.
Some reports have suggested that even a low 10% ethanol blended fuel
could have the following positive impacts: a reduction in the tailpipe
fine particulate matter (PM) emissions by 50%; a reduction in
seconally, as the link between global warming and climate change has
been firmly established, 135 one can argue that when a major urban
center, such as the city of Sdo Paolo, transitions from regular
gasoline to fuel ethanol, there will be a positive effect on the city and
possibly the global environment as well.
It is an indisputable fact that the urban air quality in Brazilian
cities has improved within the last thirty years, especially in cities
like Sdo Paolo where ethanol fuel has been consumed in large
quantities by a vast majority of consumers.1 36 There, the
replacement of lead additives in gasoline with ethanol has contributed to
improved air quality.' 37 The use of ethanol fuel has also
contributed to the general phasing out of lead and MTBE (methyl tertiary
large Brazilian uTrbhaisn ecxepneteriresn.'c3e9 is mirrored in many of the other
Where BraziliansProduce the Ethanol to Fuel Their Cars:Ethanol
Fuel ProductionResults in Problems With NaturalResource
Use, Air Pollution, DecliningPublic Health, and
Inhumane Worker Conditions
Despite these successes, critics of the Brazilian ethanol
program have identified a number of environmental problems
attributable to the ethanol production industry. Notably, greenhouse gas
emissions, worsened air quality, soil erosion, and other
environmental problems crop up at the locales where sugarcane is grown
and ethanol produced, facts that undermine the otherwise rosy
picdary PM formation by diluting aromatic content in gasoline; a reduction
in carbon monoxide (CO) emissions by up to 30%-even in new cars; a
reduction in toxics content by 13% (mass); and a reduction in toxic
contents by 21% (potency).
Id. (noting the composition and character of ethanol-roughly 35% oxygen, "water
soluble, non-toxic, and biodegradable"-contributes to reduced particle and
135 Elisabeth Rosenthal & Andrew C. Revkin, Science Panel Says Global Warming Is
'Unequivocal,' N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 3, 2007, at Al ("Global warming is 'unequivocal' and
that human activity is 'very likely' causing most of rise in temperatures since 1950.").
136 XAVIER, supranote 41, at 8; ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supranote 57;
UNICA, Social Aspects: Health and Environment, http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/
sociedade desenvolv2c.asp (last visited May 17, 2008) (stating that in Sao Paolo there
has been a 57% and 64% reduction in carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon,
respectively, "two of the most aggressive pollutants," despite increased automobile density).
137 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 8.
138 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809; ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra
note 57; UNICA, Social Aspects: Health and Environment, http://www.unica.com.br/
i-pages/sociedade desenvolv2c.asp (stating that lead levels were reduced by 70% to
80% between 1979 and 1983).
139 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 8.
ture presented by advocates of fuel ethanol. The continued abuse
and ill treatment of sugarcane workers, and the rural violence and
shifting land-abuse also present problems that are not commonly
addressed when evaluating the success of the Brazilian ethanol
The Increasing Air Pollution and Decreasing Public
Health Standard in the Rural Communities
Although consumers, such as drivers of automobiles and
urban dwellers, reap the benefits of fuel ethanol's "no new"
greenhouse emissions, rural communities and sugarcane laborers cannot
make the same claim. In fact, their communities and public health
have in many ways worsened from an already bad beginning, as the
Brazilian agribusiness has soared. Environmental justice advocates
and even ethanol advocates agree that the ethanol program has
created greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air quality in
rural areas.1 4 ° Certainly, this issue is at the heart of increasing
dialogue concerning the emissions that stem from the burning of
sugarcane and bagasse,"' and from fossil fuel powered equipment
used in the cultivation and transportation process.1 4 2
140 See Marris, supra note 29 (stating sugarcane cultivation contributes to the
The decreasing air quality and rising public health concerns
among rural communities where ethanol is produced is a major,
unaddressed problem that is often cited by critics of the Brazilian
ethanol program when evaluating or gauging the success of the
Brazilian ethanol program. The major factual issue in play is the
burning of sugarcane fields twice a year before each manual
harvesting. 4 3 The same process that makes the Brazilian program
such a success-specifically burning bagasse to generate the
biomass fuel to power the ethanol production process-seems to be
causing the greatest harm to rural communities. The pollution
and smoke created by this sugarcane burning is
well-documented. 14 4 The Brazilian government has identified new and
tougher legal restrictions on the burning of sugarcane as a way to
combat this problem in the future.'4 5 Additionally, ethanol
advocates in both the industry and public sector have argued that the
flaw lies in the current technology and process, but that the theory
is a sound one and future science will eradicate even this flaw in
the system. 146
In2002, a law was passed by the state of Silo Paolo mandating
that 30% of the so-called "mechanizable areas"-those sugarcane
fields with slopes lower than 12%-would not be burned.1 4 7
Despite this law, sugarcane farmers have either failed or been
reluctant to comply. 148 The main reason for this lack of compliance is
the reluctance to replace inexpensive manual labor with
mechanized harvesting, a more expensive proposition.'4 9 An argument
other GHG (non C02) in the combustion of bagasse in steam boilers;
Release of other GHG (non C02) in the combustion of ethanol in
engines .... Group 4: This group includes what can be called "virtual"
flows of GHG emissions; they would take place if, in the absence of
ethanol, the fuel demand was met by gasoline and if in the absence of
surplus bagasses, fuel oil was used. These emissions can be categorized as
GHG avoided emission by substituting ethanol for gasoline... [and] by
substituting bagasse for fuel oil in other industrial sectors.
143 Luiz Antonio Martinelli & Solange Filoso, PollutingEffects of Brazil's Sugar-Ethanol
Industry, 445 NATURE 364, 364 (2007).
144 See, e.g.C,anado et al., supra note 89, at 276.
145 ETHANOL FROM SucA CANE IN BRAZIL, supranote 57 ("Legal restrictions on cane
burning are providing adequate protection in rural areas.").
146 See Murray, supra note 5 (suggesting that the problem of noxious burning as
well as shifting land use might be resolved by creating technology to take advantage of
the "more abundant and land efficient cellulosic feedstocks, such as agricultural and
forest residues, grasses, and fast-growing trees").
147 Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
148 See id.
can be made that substitution of cheap labor with mechanized
farming would undermine the success of the Brazilian ethanol
program. Compliance with this law has been pushed back several
times, usually at the insistence of the sugarcane cultivation
industry15° which commands enormous political pressure in Brazil.
Unenforceable or non-workable rules such as these have not reduced
the smoke pollution arising from ethanol production.15 1
In rural areas in Brazil where sugarcane is cultivated, the main
source of aerosol particles is biomass burning. 152 The pollution
from this burning of sugarcane has been linked to an increasing
number of respiratory diseases and ailments in the rural areas
where sugar is cultivated.1 53 As a general matter, aerosols damage
human health, but the consensus is that small particles, especially
those of less than 2.5 micrometers (gtm) in aerodynamic diameter
(PM2.5), are potentially the most damaging because of their ability
to penetrate deep into the human lung and impact the lower
respiratory organs.' 54 This burning of bagasse and the resulting
emissions of aerosol and trace gases has also impacted the
composition and acidity of rainwater in those areas.1 55 Both phenomena
have occurred in the state of Sdo Paolo, where twenty tons per
hectare are burned annually for harvesting. 156
A limited number of studies address the effects of small
aerosol particle emissions on the health of these rural communities.
But one recent study attempts to show a causal link by looking at
hospital admissions data related to respiratory conditions for the
children and elderly populations of the Piracicaba region of Sdo
Paolo state. 157 Estimates are that, in the Piracicaba region, the
burning of sugarcane contributes to 60% of this "finemode aerosol
mass."'158 The study reported that for both children and elderly
populations there were significant percentage increases in hospital
emissions related to respiratory conditions during the "burning
152 Canado et al., supra note 89, at 727 (contrasting this with major cities such as
New York and Santiago where the major source of airborne particles are fossil fuel
153 Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
154 Cangado et al., supranote 89, at 725 (citing a 1996 study published by the
American Thoracic Society).
158 Id. at 727 (noting that the "resuspended soil dust" contributed to 14%, and
industry and oil combustion, which each contributed 12% of the aerosol
riod" as opposed to the "non-burning period."1'59 Among children,
the percentage increase related to PM10 was approximately 40%,
and PM2.5 and BC were approximately 20% each. Additionally,
the study reported that the following approximate percentage
increases from PM2.5 elements: 30% for potassium; 40% for silicon;
and 50% for aluminum.1 60 Overall, the study showed that
respiratory-related hospital admissions for children were two to three
times higher during the burning season. 61 The authors of the
study posited that these already significant increases could be
exacerbated by the lower humidity and temperatures that accompany
the periods in which the burning occurs. 1 6 2 These lower
temperatures and humidity could be impairing the dispersion of the
particles and heightening the health and respiratory effects. 63 The
study showed similar results for elderly populations, specifically
higher incidents of respiratory admissions among the elderly
during the less humid and colder periods when the burning occurred,
but found that industrial emissions also contributed to this
population's respiratory problems. 164
There is a general consensus among medical science that a
population's exposure to high levels of toxins and pollutants can
increase "the risk of acute respiratory infections, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. ' 165 Children are believed
to be the most susceptible sub-population and the most at risk for
these illnesses.166 Studies in Sdo Paolo city have shown that particle
matter has an adverse effect on the respiratory health of children
and causes inflammatory and infectious diseases in both the upper
and lower respiratory systems. 1 67 Children under the age of five
are even more at risk, as acute lower respiratory infections are the
single largest contributor of death among children in that age
bracket.'68 Environmental justice advocates report that although
children under the age of five make up 12% of the global
population, they bear 43% of the health risks such as these that are
attrib159 Id. at 727-28.
160 Id. at 727, figure 3 (comparing the burning and non-burning periods for
potassium, silicon, and aluminum).
161 Id. at 728.
162 Id. at 727.
164 See id.
165 Id. at 728.
utable to environmentally-related problems.169 For children of
areas such as Piracicaba, the risk becomes even greater when
considering what the effects from this long-term and chronic exposure
are or might be. These communities have now been exposed to
the effects of the burning of sugarcane for approximately six
months every year for the last thirty to forty years.1 70 Beyond the
acute effects, the injury from such chronic exposure might be
more useful in answering the ultimate question of who has paid the
highest price for the success of Brazilian ethanol. 171
Soil Erosion and Water Depletion
With respect to soil erosion, there are conflicting reports as to
whether it is a "potentially damaging side effect" of sugarcane
cultivation or whether the "environmental degradation from soil
erosion in sugarcane fields is widespread." 172 To grow and harvest
sugarcane requires nitrogen fertilizers that could create severe soil
erosion. 73 Estimates suggest that up to thirty tons of soil per
hectare per year erode within the Sdo Paolo state. 1 7 4
One of the most controversial issues related to ethanol
production has been its effect on water use, and the possible
environmental problems related to irrigation. The government and the
industry have stated that Brazilian ethanol production requires no
irrigation, and that the industry's water consumption has reduced
as the production process has grown and evolved, especially in the
last decade.175 Environmentalists are fearful that increased ethanol
production and cultivation of sugarcane will deplete the nation's
water supply.' 76 The central concern involves the spillover of
wastewater from sugarcane mills and distillation facilities.' 77 Many
environmental advocates warn that this is polluting local water
supplies, and in turn harming rural communities while causing
erosion that is harming the interior's natural water supply. 178
Some have suggested that despite legal restrictions intended to
172 Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
173 See Marris, supra note 29, at 670.
174 Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
175 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57.
176 See Lehman, supra note 57. Lehman reported that Brazilians protesting during
a visit of President George W. Bush to Brazil carried placards through the streets of
Sdo Paolo that read, "For every liter of ethanol produced, 4 liters of fresh water are
177 See Hearn, supra note 3.
protect the riparian buffers that prevent soil erosion to rivers and
streams, only 30% of these riparian zones have been protected. 79
The official state response is that although legal restrictions have
been put in place, tougher enforcement may be needed. '80
iii. Fuel Crops Instead of Food Crops: Shifting Land Use in
Brazil Could Mean Encroachment and Development in the
Amazon and Destruction of Biodiversity
Environmentalists and critics of the Brazilian ethanol program
have zeroed in on the increased call for ethanol production, with
its inherent need for more land, and the impact that this increased
land use will have in terms of encroachment on certain regions,
notably the Amazon rain forest and the Cerrado savanna region.' 1
Additionally, these groups have attempted to bring into the
general discourse concerning ethanol, the possibility that the allure of
ethanol production will derail the agricultural production mix and
cause a shift from growing crops for food to growing crops solely
for fuel.' 8 2
Brazil has two million acres (850 million hectares) of land."8 3
Native forests in Brazil account for 1,400 acres (550 hectares).' 84
Two-thirds of these native forests are located in the Amazon.18 5
Currently, the sixteen billion liters (or 4.2 billion gallons) of
ethanol produced from Brazilian sugarcane requires approximately
three million hectares of land.1 86 Advocates of ethanol production
maintain that the "competition for land use between food and fuel
has not been substantial" since sugarcane cultivation requires 10%
of total cultivated land and between 0.7% and 1% of total land
available for agriculture in the country.18 7 According to these
esti179 Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
180 Hearn, supra note 3 ("Our laws say that mills can never put water in the river
that is worse than what the river has." (quoting Antonio Luiz Lima de Queiroz, a
specialist with Sao Paulo state's environmental agency)).
182 See id. ("[T] here is concern that higher-priced crops like sugarcane will displace
soy and cattle farming in the Cerrado-driving those operations into the forests,
which would have to be flattened to make way for farms.").
183 Hearn, supra note 3; ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57
2006, 55% of the land in Brazil contained natural forests, 7% of land was used for
agricultural purposes, and 35% was "pasture land" in which growth was occurring)
184 Hearn, supra note 3.
186 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808.
187 Id.; ETHANOl FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supranote 57 (noting that half of the
land cultivated for sugarcane is used for ethanol, and the other half is intended for
mates, only 5.6 million hectares of Brazilian land are used to
cultivate sugarcane for use in both sugar and ethanol production.1 8
Environmentalists point to the "unregulated biofuels boon"
and suggest that these natural ecosystems bear the brunt for the
expansion of the ethanol program."8 9 For the Cerrado and the
Amazon, critics have identified the possible worsening "loss of
species diversity, water-quality problems, and habitat fragmentation in
some of the world's most biologically diverse regions." 9 '
Sugarcane is not a crop that can be easily cultivated in rain forest
cligmoavteesr.n' 9m1 enPtrhecaisseulpy ubnetcialutsheis pofointhtisdeluinbseuraittaeblyilitcyh,ostehne
toBrnaozitlieaxnpand sugarcane cultivation into these climates.1 2 Since the
conversion from natural forest to agricultural lands would require
biomass burning to clear the land and remove dry vegetation,
environmentalists are also concerned that the hazardous pollution and
health effects associated with sugarcane burning will also be felt in
these areas. 193
However, the concern that environmentalists raise most is that
non-Amazon or non-Cerrado land will be used as a new staging
ground for sugarcane agribusiness, and that lower-priced food
crops like soy will be pushed aside to make way for more sugarcane
farms.' 9 4 The fear that environmentalists have is that native forests,
especially in the Amazon, will be paved, flattened, and spoiled to
make way for agriculture and even livestock.'95 Additionally,
environmentalists raise concerns that the Brazilian government's
embrace of biofuels could lead them to cultivate palm trees in the
Amazon so as to harvest palm oil-another source of biofuel.' 6
The fear is that the desire for this additional biological energy
source will cause devastation to the Amazon in the same way that
188 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808.
189 Hearn, supra note 3.
193 Canado et al., supra note 89, at 725 (estimating that 18% of the dry material
burned is related to rainforest burning).
194 BraziliansClash over Bush Visit, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, Mar. 9, 2007, available
at http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Brazilians-clash-over-Bush-visit/20 0 7 /0 3/
09/1173166942570.html ("[Ethanol production] can create more problems than
solutions .... The cane cutters will be affected, we're going to have more jungle
burning, which could harm the environment, and even producers of other crops will
suffer." (quoting Rebeca Lerer, coordinator of climate and energy for Greenpeace
Brazil)). See generally Murray, supra note 5.
195 Hearn, supra note 3.
palm plantations heave lead to problems and deforestation in the
Borneo and Sumatra rainforests of Southeast Asia. 19 7
However, advocates of the sugarcane agribusiness in Brazil
continue to argue that the abundance of available land and
increasing technological efficiency make these claims by
environmental justice advocates "overblown.' 9 8 Other advocates argue
that the current market conditions would not allow for any serious
change in the overall agricultural production. 9
Inexpensive Labor: The Lack of Labor Rights &
Inhumane Worker Treatment
Rural communities in sugarcane producing tropical countries
are uniquely situated to take advantage of the interest in
sugarcane-derived ethanol: they can take "advantage of year-round
growing seasons, large labor supplies, and low production costs. 20 0
Without question, Brazil's successful implementation of an ethanol
program has rested in large part on its having the lowest cost of
production in the world. 20 ' Notably, critics contend that sugarcane
agribusiness remains to this day un-divorced from the Brazilian
sugarcane plantations of its colonial past.20 2 Local Greenpeace
activists have highlighted the "social unrest" caused by having the
economic benefits concentrated among the "wealthy families [and]
corporations . . . while the poor are left to cut the cane with
machetes." 2 3 Many workers' rights advocates in Brazil also
conflate any rise in ethanol production with an increasing alliance
198 Hearn, supranote 3 ('You don't need more than 5 percent of that land to reach
production levels imagined for ten years from now." (quoting Carvalho Macedo of
Brazil's National Sugarcane Agro-Industry Union); "A simple calculation shows that
expanding the Brazilian ethanol program by a factor of ten ... would supply enough
ethanol to replace 10 percent of the gasoline used in the world. This land area is a
small fraction of the more than 1 billion hectares [2.5 billion acres] of primary crops
already harvested on the planet." (quoting Sao Paulo state environment secretaryJos6
199 Marris, supra note 29, at 672 ("Sugar cane is only [Brazil's] fourth biggest
commodity, in terms of revenue, with cattle, chicken and soya all bringing in more money.
The limiting factor in expansion is capital rather than land.").
200 Murray, supra note 5.
201 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 2.
202 Id. ("The problems with [sugarcane's] production today are very similar to the
problems it generated hundreds of years ago" (quoting Maisa Mendona, director of
the Sao Paolo-based non-governmental organization Rede Social)).
203 Lehman, supra note 57; KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1 (noting assertions made by
the Forum of Resistance to Agribusinesses that the ethanol industry is "simply a repeat
of the same model of economic growth via agro-export that has been practiced since
tween Brazil and the United States.2 °4
Approximately 85% of the production of ethanol is
concentrated in the "Center South" region of the country with over 50%
in the state of Sdo Paolo.2°5 This area accounts for nearly 80% of
the domestic production with the northeast accounting for the
remaining 20%.26 Although mechanization has been introduced
into the sugarcane agribusiness model, manual labor is a key
component of ethanol production. 20 7 For many of these rural
communities, the rise in ethanol production provided newjobs and raised
the incomes of these working farms.20 8 Some have argued that this
has created an overall improvement for these rural economies. 20 9
Even with the increased use of mechanization within the last
several years, conflicting estimates report that the sugarcane
industry has directly provided between 800,000 and over one million
jobs.210 This is not insignificant for a country whose rate of
unemployment is roughly 10%.211 However, while there has been
creation of new jobs, there is strong criticism of the working
conditions, especially those of manual harvesters. 21 2
According to worker and environmental justice advocates, the
reason Brazil has the lowest cost of ethanol production in the
world is in huge part through "labor exploitation," specifically a
massive quantity of quasi-slave labor and government refusal to
implement and comply with environmental regulations.213 The
differential between the average cost of production in Sdo Paolo
($165 per ton) and that in Europe ($700 per ton), coupled with
the median monthly salary for a sugarcane plantation laborer
(between $167 and $195)214 strongly suggests at least a correlation
be204 Lehman, supra note 57 ("We know that Bush and the United States are known
for exploiting weaker countries into deals that will only benefit themselves without
worrying about the environment." (quoting Mariana Schwarz, a twenty-five year-old
publicist and Greenpeace activist)).
205 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7; see also Brazil Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated," supra
note 57 (noting that 60% of the ethanol production facilities are located in Sdo
206 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7.
207 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 808 (noting that ethanol production requires
"more workforce per unit of energy than conventional fossil fuels").
208 Murray, supra note 5.
209 See id.
210 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57; Marris, supra note 29, at
211 Marris, supra note 29, at 670.
212 See Martinelli & Filoso, supra note 143, at 364.
213 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 2.
tween cheap labor and cheap fuel ethanol.
There are conflicting reports with respect to the wage rates of
sugarcane harvest workers. Some reports state that these jobs offer
the highest wages within agriculture with the exception of
soybeans.215 Other reports state that workers at ethanol production
facilities earn less than $200 per month while working an average
of twelve hours per day.216 Added to this cheap labor supply are
the estimated 40,000 seasonal migrant laborers from the Mineras
Gerais and the Northeast, traditionally the two poorest regions in
Brazil, who travel to the state of Sdo Paolo each year for sugarcane
harvesting.217 Sugarcane cutters, who make up the vast majority of
field labor, are traditionally paid by the weight of their cuttings2. 8
Studies from the State University of Sdo Paolo have suggested that
"the required rate of productivity for cane cutters is increasing."2 1 9
During the 1980s, the average rate of productivity required of an
individual sugarcane cutter was "between five and eight tons of
sugarcane cut per day; today it is between 12 and 15 tons. '2 20
The mortality rate among sugarcane cutters is a watershed
issue within the current social and political dialogue in Brazil. The
reports on mortality rates are varied and show a great discrepancy.
From 2004 to 2006, the locally-based Pastoral of Migrants
registered seventeen deaths in SIo Paolo due to "excessive labor. 22 1
The Sdo Paolo State Regional Delegation of Labor, meanwhile,
recorded that 416 ethanol production workers died in 2005 alone.2 2 2
In addition to the deaths of ethanol workers and the general
unrest and violence that plague production areas, Brazilian labor
inspectors and regulators are also at risk of serious injury and
In March 2007, reports surfaced worldwide that Sdo Paolo
state prosecutors denounced what they called "degrading working
conditions" at five ethanol production plants in the Marilla
region. 224 These reports were both a wake-up call to society about
215 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57.
216 Brazil Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated," supra note 57.
217 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 2.
218 Id. (noting that pay is based on the weight of their cuttings).
223 Laurie Kazan-Allen, Open Season on Brazil's LaborInspections, 10
Irr'LJ.OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH 240, 240 (2004) (discussing the deaths of three labor inspectors and
the challenges faced by the business sector, public officials, and the courts).
224 Brazil Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated," supra note 57.
TAINTED GRAIL OF BRA ZILIAN ETHANOL
the inhumane working conditions of sugarcane and ethanol
laborers, and insightful in terms of how quickly state officials denounced
the conditions so as to not tarnish the image of fuel ethanol. 225
The state labor prosecutors found that approximately 40% of the
sugarcane cutters were victims of "bad treatment. '226 Reported
working conditions included allegations that 400 of the 1,000
sugarcane cutters worked in direct sunlight, without water, during the
hottest hours of the day, and without the benefit of any kind of
safety equipment. 227 There were also reports of no eating or
bathing facilities at the employment sites.228 When asked whether these
alleged conditions were in fact degrading or inhumane, one labor
prosecutor, Edmundo Jose de Oliveira Neto, stated that "[o]f
course everything depends on what is deemed degrading, but for
eums, ployeyse,es.th'2e2s9e are degrading working conditions for the
The United States and Brazil accord, which many believe is
"meant to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded
commodity, '230 has galvanized Brazilian activism. For some, the
timeline has an almost sinister ring to it. On January 22, 2007, the
Brazilian administration announced an increase in federal funds
for the ethanol agribusiness of nearly $6 billion through 201 1.231
On January 23, 2007, President George W. Bush declared in the
State of the Union address that the United States was to reduce its
use of gasoline by 20% by 2017.232 By March of 2007, Brazil and
the United States formalized "a strategic alliance to promote
biofuels. ''23' The political spin for this alliance is that this is an
important step for both the environment and "global security. "'234
The political capital that many feel is the driver for this alliance is
the standardization of ethanol on the global economic market in
the same manner that oil and other fossil fuels are defined.23 5 This
may be the final step in the process of transforming fuel ethanol
into the commodity Brazil has hoped for, and local advocates have
230 Lehman, supra note 57.
231 KENFIELD, supra note 3, at 1.
233 Brazil Ethanol Workers "Badly Treated," supra note 57.
234 See id.
235 See id.
Ill. COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS FOR BRAZILLAN ETHANOL
PRODUCTION: FLAWED MODEL OR FRAMEWORK THAT
NEEDS MINOR ADJUSTMENTS?
The cane producerswho were seen 10 years ago as agribusinessbandits
taernetiboencotmoientghannaotilo.2 n36aland world heroes because everybody is paying
atThe cane producers represent a monoculture sector that doesn't create
jobs and doesn't spread wealth, it concentrates it in the hands of afew
. . . and the few jobs they create offer precarious conditions, they are
promoting slave labor.237
The Brazilian ethanol production market is arguably the first
renewable fuel to be cost-effective. Certainly, among other ethanol
production processes, it has been the most cost-effective; even the
United States, the second largest biofuel market in the world,
comes a distant second. 238 According to UNICA, the Brazilian
industry association, the average production cost of ethanol is
approximately $0.75 per gallon. 239 This would make the production
costs for ethanol in Brazil the lowest in the world. 24 0 The factors
that contribute to this cost-effectiveness include the "superiority of
sugarcane to corn as an ethanol feedstock,24 the favorable
Brazilian climate, the inexpensive-but-ready labor force,242 and "a
mature infrastructure built over at least three decades. '243 The
Brazilian ethanol program also has other built-in advantages that
might not be as obvious or capable of replication as these
factors.2 4 4
236 Leftist BrazilianPresident Silva Slammed for CallingEthanolProducers 'Heroes,' INT'L
HERALD TRIB., Mar. 21, 2007, http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/20O7/03/21/america
/LA-GEN-Brazil-Ethanol-Controversy.php (reporting a statement made by President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to a group of farmers in the central state of Goais for which
he later reached much censure from Brazilian environmental justice and workers
237 Id. (quoting a response to President Silva's remarks from Vanderlei Martini, the
head of a state chapter of the Landless Rural Workers Movement).
238 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 1 (factors supporting Brazil's ethanol production as
more economical than the United States).
239 Id. at 8.
240 Id.; ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57 (finding that between
1975 and 2002, productivity, gauged as gallon of ethanol per acre, doubled while the
costs of producing ethanol decreased three times over).
241 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 1.
242 Murray, supranote 5 (emphasizing that rural communities in
sugarcane-producing tropical countries are uniquely situated to take "[a]dvantage of year-round
growing seasons, large labor supplies, and low production costs").
243 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 1.
244 Id. at 10 (summarizing Brazil's advantages as: "Favorable climate, abundance of
fertile land, and plentiful rainfall in the Center-South region[, [p]roduction areas
The importance of sugarcane as the raw material used in this
process cannot be overestimated. Sugarcane has a "highly
favorable energetic balance, '24 5 yielding eight times the amount of
energy that was used to produce it. Within the Brazilian model,
sugarcane accounts for approximately 60% of the cost of
production.2 4 6 Economists note that this 60% is the threshold that needs
to be met for Brazilian ethanol to remain viable and retain its
Additionally, one cannot overlook the role that the Brazilian
government played at every juncture to ensure the continued
interest and viability of ethanol production among the key stakeholder
groups, industry, and even the consumer.2 4 8 In the 1990s when
petroleum prices fell, the ethanol program became uneconomical
and Brazil's Congress "resorted to drastic measures by passing a law
forcing oil companies to add small quantities of ethanol to their
gasoline (in Brazil, gas sold at the pumps is 25% ethanol). 249
Brazilian consumers face a danger of losing money with this E20
blend, depending on the "volatile ethanol prices," and sugar
growers also may prefer to "make even more money by selling their
product as sugar on the world market rather than fermenting it
into alcohol. 250
As biofuel enters maturity, environmental and social justice
advocates are pointing out some of the problems and issues
surrounding the advent of these energy sources, and highlighting the
pitfalls and obstacles that may lurk within the seemingly successful
targets and goals. Within the context of a cost-benefit analysis, the
current model needs to be broadened out to encompass a more
holistic view of the entire process.251
near major consumption areas of bagasse for plant energy use and surplus electricity
sales[,] [h]ybrid sugar mill/distillery complexes[, [s]tate-of-the-art computerized
planting, harvesting, and plant operations.").
245 Id. at 8.
248 See id. at 1 ("Ethanol's infrastructure model did not arise from free market
competition: It required huge taxpayer subsidies over decades before it could become
251 See Tommy Dalgaard, Uffe Jorgensen, Jorgen E. Olesen, Erik Steen Jensen, &
Erik Steen Kristensen, Letter to the Editor, Looking at Biofuels and Bioenergy, 312
SciENCE 1743 (June 23, 2006).
46 EESI, supra note 40, at 2; Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809.
47 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809.
48 Id. All dollar amounts are measured in United States currency .
49 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 6.
50 Goldemberg, supra note 9, at 809.
51 Id. (stating that these ethanol-gasoline blend mandates constituted a "Renewable Portfolio Standard for fuel" that is now being considered as a model in several states of the United States, Japan, and the European Union) .
52 Murray, supra note 5; XAVIER, supra note 41, at 3; EESI, supra note 40, at 2.
53 Chris Somerville , Editorial, The Billion-Ton Biofuels Vision , 312 SCIENCE 1277, 1277 (June 2, 2006 ).
54 UNICA , A Clean and Renewable Fuel, http://www.unica.com.br/ipages/ alcoolalcoolcombustivel. asp (last visited Jan . 31 , 2008 ).
55 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 6 (noting how flex-fuel cars can run on both gasoline, ethanol, or a mixture of the two); see also EESI, supra note 40, at 2. Henry Ford's design for the Model T allowed it to be powered by either ethanol or gasoline since ethanol constituted a major portion of the fuel transportation market until the 1930s when the low oil prices allowed gasoline to dominate the market . Id.
56 See UNICA , A Clean and Renewable Fuel, http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/
72 Murray, supra note 5; see also RFA, supranote 21, at 2 (reporting that more than 30% of the gasoline sold in the United States contains ethanol ).
73 Murray, supra note 5 (noting that the amount of energy needed to make ethanol from corn nearly matches the energy contained in the ethanol itself ).
74 ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57; see also BrazilEthanol Workers "Badly Treated," supra note 57 (explaining that in 2006, Brazil produced approximately 17.7 billion liters of sugarcane-based ethanol constituting roughly 35% of the global supply ).
75 UNICA, http://www.portalunica.com.br/portalunicaenglish/?Secao= sugarcane (last visited Apr . 15 , 2008 ).
76 UNICA, http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/estatisticas/prod/alcooltotal/br. htm (last visited Sept . 11 , 2007 ) ( 1990 -1991, 11 , 515 ,151 m' produced; 1991 - 1992 , 12 , 716 ,180 m3 produced; 1992 - 1993 , 11 , 697 ,035 m3 produced; 1993 - 1994 , 11 , 285 ,590 m 3 produced; 1994 - 1995 , 12 , 696 ,780 m3 produced; 1995 - 1996 , 12 , 583 ,392 m3 produced).
77 Id. ( 1996 -1997, 14 , 379 ,700 m 3 produced; 1997 - 1998 , 15 , 407 ,514 m3 produced).
78 Id. ( 1998 -1999, 13 , 912 ,207 m3 produced; 1999 - 2000 , 13 , 002 ,326 m3 produced; 2000 - 2001 , 10 , 593 ,035 m3 produced; 2001 - 2002 , 11 , 560 ,652 m3 produced).
79 Murray, supranote 5; ETHANOL FROM SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL, supra note 57 . In 2005, reports were that 310 sugar mills processed 380 Mt sugarcane to yield twenty-six Mt sugar and 4.1 billion gallons of ethanol . Id.
80 XAVIER, supra note 41, at 7.
81 See Hearn , supra note 3; XAVIER, supra note 41 , at 7 (reporting that the production figures have increased to roughly fifty-five million tons of sugar or ethanol generated by 306 operating mills ).
82 UNICA, http://www.unica.com.br/i-pages/estatisticas/maioresexp_acucar_ ing. htm (last visited Sept . 25 , 2007 ). In 2001 , Brazil exported 11 , 168 , 722 metric tons of sugar, which was nearly seven million metric tons more than the second largest exporter of sugar, the European Union . Id.