Friday, August 19, 2016

Ethanol: bad for cars, bad for consumers, bad for the economy and really, really bad for the environment

From Mark Perry.
"An excerpt appears below from my op-ed in yesterday’s US News and World ReportUnwind the Ethanol Mandate” about one of the biggest political boondoggles in history – ethanol and the ethanol mandate. Back in 2007 when political cheerleaders like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa (the “king of ethanol hype”) were promoting ethanol with fantastic claims like “Everything about ethanol is good, good, good,” Rolling Stone magazine responded with the best sentence on ethanol I’ve ever read: “This is not just hype — it’s dangerous, delusional bullshit.” And what’s not good at all about demon ethanol (Paul Krugman’s phrase) are the serious negative effects it’s having on the environment:
And yet, today, despite our reverence for the Great Plains and the fragile ecosystem of the grasslands, more and more of this majestic landscape is being converted to corn production for purely political reasons. Ironically, those who should have been working to protect the grasslands have mistakenly encouraged their demise. Back in 2004, when concern about U.S. energy security was escalating and biofuels were promoted as an innovative, green solution to our growing dependence on foreign fuel, environmental groups enthusiastically supported the establishment of the renewable fuel standard, better known as the ethanol mandate.
In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council, an influential international environmental advocacy group, released a 96-page report in 2004 predicting that a biofuels mandate would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 billion tons per year, improve air quality, reduce soil erosion and even expand wildlife habitat. Now more than a decade after the ethanol mandate became law in 2005, these same environmental groups that lobbied so vigorously for its establishment are now recoiling in horror at the ecological Frankenstein they helped create.
The reality is that the ethanol mandate hasn’t lowered emissions nor has it improved air quality. It has, however, led to rapid depletion of groundwater in several states and the destruction of millions more acres of untouched prairie grassland as corn growers have expanded their production to fuel the ethanol industry. The acreage used to grow corn in the U.S. has increased more than 15% since the establishment of the mandate in 2005. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this year’s corn crop will be the largest ever at 14.5 billion bushels.
Along with other environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council has now completely reversed its position on biofuels. Instead of lobbying for ethanol, it’s now lobbying against it, saying, “There is no denying that the bulk of today’s conventional corn ethanol carries grave risks to the climate, wildlife, waterways and food security.” And yet, corn ethanol continues to be blended into our nation’s gasoline supply to account for 10% of the fuel Americans consume every day.
Big Corn and the ethanol industry are struggling to hold off increasing pressure from both the left and the right to end the renewable fuel standard mandate. Environmental groups have had enough of the ecological damage, and conservatives – at least those outside of corn states – are increasingly uncomfortable with a government mandate that funnels tens of billions of dollars in benefits to a well-organized special interest group. Furthermore, America’s energy security problems that the ethanol mandate was supposed to address no longer exist.
Thanks to America’s shale revolution that started just as the mandate passed in 2005, U.S. oil production has surged to near-record levels in recent years, completely reversing more than three decades of falling domestic production. The U.S. is now more energy secure than it has been since the early 1970s and the fears of eroding U.S. oil production and peak oil that motivated the original mandate are now long gone.
There is a growing consensus that it’s way past time to drop the renewable fuel standard. Good intentions aside, we now know that the promises used to sell the ethanol mandate a decade ago have not even come close to approaching reality. There are many good reasons to unwind the ethanol mandate, but perhaps none is more important than protecting the last vestiges of the Great Plains. Far too much of our famous prairie grassland has already been converted to crop land in pursuit of a flawed mandate that damages the environment and is bad for consumers, cars and the economy. Congress must finally move to correct a failed energy policy and fix the ethanol mistake.
And this AP news report also appeared in yesterday’s US News and World Report EPA watchdog says government fails to study ethanol’s impact:”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general says the Obama administration has failed to study as legally required the impact of requiring ethanol in gasoline. The IG says the government also failed to investigate whether new regulations intended to address one problem actually make other problems worse.
The audit published Thursday confirms an Associated Press investigation in November 2013. The AP said the administration never conducted studies to determine whether air and water quality benefits from adding corn-based ethanol to gasoline. Such reports to Congress were required every three years under a 2007 law.
The AP investigation described ethanol as more damaging to the environment than the government predicted. Farmers who rushed to find new places to plant corn wiped out millions of acres of conservation land and polluted water supplies.
Related: It was this July 27 Bloomberg article “As Corn Devours U.S. Prairies, Greens Reconsider Biofuel Mandate” that inspired my op-ed above, here’s a slice:
Environmentalists who once championed biofuels as a way to cut pollution are now turning against a U.S. program that puts renewable fuels in cars, citing higher-than-expected carbon dioxide emissions and reduced wildlife habitat. More than a decade after conservationists helped persuade Congress to require adding corn-based ethanol and other biofuels to gasoline, some groups regret the resulting agricultural runoff in waterways and conversion of prairies to cropland — improving the odds that lawmakers might seek changes to the program next year.
“The big green groups that got invested in biofuels are tacitly realizing the blunder,” said John DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute who previously focused on automotive strategies at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s really hard for the people who really — shall we say — hate oil viscerally, to think that this alternative that we’ve been promoting is today worse than oil.”
“The ethanol policy was sold to environmentalists as something that was going to clean up the environment, and it’s done anything but,” said Democratic Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, who is co-sponsoring legislation to revamp the RFS. “It’s truly been a flop. The environmental promise has been transformed into an environmental detriment.”
“For the Democrats who have an environmental constituency, when you have these respected environmental groups change their mind and say corn ethanol doesn’t work, that’s going to be a big boost that will give them a lot of comfort and cover,” Welch said. “You’re going to see more Democrats starting to question the wisdom of this mandate.”"

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