By Dan Shapley
A 15 percent increase in corn planting -- inspired by government incentives for ethanol -- drove the chemical fertilizer industry to the top of a 200-category list of must-invest companies. But what may be good news for investors is suspect for the environment. Nitrogen-heavy fertilizers produce nitrogen-rich runoff, which flows into streams and lakes -- and eventually downstream to coastal estuaries, where it fuels lifeless oxygen-deprived "dead zones." The Gulf of Mexico dead zone occurs seasonally in the most economically important part of the gulf for fisheries. The amount of nitrogen flowing from the American farming heartland into the Mississippi River and then the Gulf of Mexico has nearly tripled since the 1950s, when the use of chemical fertilizers ramped up. In other words, the boom for corn-based ethanol is not without side effects. Investors concerned about environmentally responsible choices may think twice when they consider the "externalities" in the equation, according to a story in the June 1 Investor's Business Daily.