American Elephants

America’s Renewables Policy Is A Disaster by The Elephant's Child

I had to go to the grocery store today, and was startled again by the cost increases. Bacon, on special, up by $2, Butter up by $1. Good cuts of beef are out-of-sight. I wonder just what percentage of the inflation can be blamed on ethanol?

A new study finds that even the good kind of ethanol is terrible. Corn ethanol is actually worse for the environment, the overall production cycle is worse for global warming than ordinary gasoline, it drives up world food prices, contributing to global hunger in the process, and it doesn’t have the energy in it that gasoline does.

Cellulosic ethanol, which relies on the detritus from corn farming and production was supposed to be better and solve some of these problems, but it doesn’t. It is worse for the environment than gasoline. Not a cleaner alternative to oil.

The environmentalists were sure that everything we were doing was wrong, and they had better answers. We would harness the wind, and after enormous investment the wind does produce some electricity—with a 24/7 backup from a fossil fuel-fired power plant. The wind turbines kill masses of birds, especially birds of prey. And we would harness the sun, which is free energy, benign, save the earth. Same deal. Sun sinks beneath the horizon just about the time that Americans are turning on the lights and cooking dinner. Needs 24/7 backup from a fossil fuel-fired power plant. Fries birds of all kinds.

Green dreaming  sounds good, but when you get down to the economics, the science, and the technology—not so much. Good payoffs for crony capitalists, but a disaster for everyone else. Even the EPA has announced that it wants to scale back the mandate that determines how much ethanol producers will be required to add to gasoline. (How about none?) Can we quit requiring the military to play around with costly biofuel experiments.

Then you have to deal with the ethanol producers and the farmers who put every bit of their acreage to corn because of the high prices. That’s not going to be easy. Next time, you could, perhaps work out the technical details and prove up the green dreams before you start investing taxpayer money in schemes that turn to dust.

2 Comments so far
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Again, as you know, I agree with your criticism of ethanol, and ethanol policy.

However, you again blame mainly the environmentalists. True, for a brief period in the mid part of the previous decade many mainstream environmental groups supported corn ethanol. But environmental scientists and NGOs (the Environmental Working Group and the Friends of the Earth in particular) were also the first to abandon it and indeed to campaign against it. There has been some cautious support for cellulosic ethanol among the larger environmental groups (e.g., the Natural Resources Defense Council), but many environmental scientists are skeptical, taking the view “once bitten, twice shy.”

At the end of the day, the origins and the continued support for ethanol should be blamed on the farm lobby, and the Midwest politicians (of both parties) in their pocket, not environmentalists.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I know the farmers and the farm lobby have a vested interest. The scientists have discovered that it’s a bad deal, but it is EPA regulations that put the stuff in our gas tanks, isn’t it? I assume it is the Defense Department, at the order of the president, who is trying to run Air Force jets and aircraft carriers on it. Obama is totally green, whether because he really believes or just because he wants the money from Tom Steyer and the environmental lobby, I don’t know. (The organizations you mention may campaign against it, but there are a lot of ordinary true believers out there) The hatred for “dirty oil” may trump any concern about ethanol. CO2 is a benign gas that doesn’t play enough of a part in the atmosphere to affect climate, and there has been no warming for 17 years 9 months, anyway. Unraveling the whole mess is really complicated. I blame all the crony capitalism, but I detest the EPA.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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