Fallacious claims prop up ethanol

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How can members of Congress still support rising renewable fuel mandates?

ethanolArguments put forward to support ethanol and other biofuels hold water like sieves – leaking billions of gallons of precious fresh water that are required to produce this expensive, unsustainable energy.

These and other renewable energy programs may have originated for the best of intentions. However, the assumptions underlying those intentions are questionable, at best, and many are rooted in anti-hydrocarbon worldviews and Club of Rome strategies that raised the specter of “looming disasters” like resource depletion and catastrophic man-made global warming, in which the “real enemy” is “humanity itself.” They also underscore how hard it is to alter policies and programs once they have been launched by Washington politicians, creating armies of special interests, lobbyists and campaign contributors.

A review of biofuel justifications shows why these programs must be revised, cut back – or scrapped.

* Renewable fuels will prevent oil depletion and reduce imports. Baloney. US oil and natural gas were declining and imports rising for decades, because environmentalists and politicians blocked leasing and drilling. The very people decrying the situation were causing it. They wanted to justify a non-hydrocarbon future that would give them greater control over our economy and living standards – and build a power base that tied them and votes to farmers and companies that benefitted from this Washington-mandated industry and wealth transfers from taxpayers and consumers to the new political power brokers.

In reality, the United States has vast storehouses of petroleum. Hydraulic fracturing alone has unlocked billions of barrels of oil equivalent energy, created 1.7 million jobs, generated hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity and government revenues, and made America the world’s number one energy producing nation. Opening up areas that are now closed to leasing would build on this record.

This renewed production also reduced oil imports – even as increasing ethanol mandates and a persistent drought have forced the USA to import ethanol from Brazil. So now we’re importing oil and ethanol!

* Renewable fuels reduce carbon dioxide emissions and dangers of catastrophic climate change. Bunk. Ethanol production and use in fuels actually increases CO2 output and airborne ozone levels.

As I point out here, here and here, there is no evidence that rising CO2 levels are about to cause climate chaos. Global average temperatures have not increased in 17 years. The new NIPCC report demonstrates that human influences on our climate are small and localized, and their effects on temperature, climate and weather are almost impossible to separate from frequent, cyclical, completely natural variability.

The latest UN IPCC report deleted all references to this temperature standstill from the Summary for Policy Makers, and eliminated an IPCC graph that revealed how every single climate model predicted that average global temperatures would be up to 1.6 degrees F higher than they actually were over the past 22 years. IPCC bureaucrats politicized the science to the point of making their report fraudulent.

Ethanol* Biofuels are better for the environment. Nonsense. We are already plowing an area bigger than Iowa to grow corn for ethanol – millions of acres that could be food crops or wildlife habitat. The energy per acre is minuscule compared to what we get from oil and gas drilling, with or without fracking. To meet the latest biodiesel mandate of 1.3 billion gallons, producers will have to extract oil from 430 million bushels of soybeans – converting countless more acres from food or habitat to energy.

To produce that biofuel, we’re also using massive quantities of pesticides, fertilizers, fossil fuels – and water. The US Department of Energy calculates that fracking requires 0.6 to 6.0 gallons of fresh or brackish water per million Btu of energy produced. By comparison, corn-based ethanol requires 2,500 to 29,000 gallons of fresh water per million Btu of energy – and biodiesel from soybeans consumes an astounding and unsustainable 14,000 to 75,000 gallons of water per million Btu!

* Farmers benefit from ethanol. Yes, some get rich. But beef, pork, chicken, egg and fish producers must pay more for feed, which means family food bills go up. Biofuel mandates also mean international aid agencies must pay more for corn and wheat, so more starving people remain malnourished longer.

* Ethanol brings cheaper gas and better mileage. Nonsense. Ethanol gets 30% less mileage than gasoline, so motorists pay the same or more per tank but can drive fewer miles. It collects water, gunks up fuel lines, corrodes engine parts, and wreaks havoc on lawn mowers and other small engines. E15 fuel blends (15% ethanol) exacerbate these problems. Biodiesel and ultra-expensive biofuel for military ships and aircraft make even less sense, especially when we have at least a century of petroleum right under our feet, right here in the United States, that many “renewable” energy advocates don’t want us to touch.

* Ethanol creates jobs. Yes, spending billions in taxes that could otherwise pay for other government or private programs … and billions in extra consumer costs for energy and food … does prop up biofuel programs, until companies go bankrupt anyway. As to “green” jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines “green jobs” as any that make a company “more environmentally friendly” – and elsewhere includes bus drivers piloting natural gas, biofuel or hybrid vehicles. The Solar Energy Society includes accountants, lawyers and landscapers involved even part time with making or installing solar panels. Even burger flippers could be green job, if they sell a meal to a truck driver who’s hauling corn to an ethanol plant.

Those capacious definitions should certainly include prosecuting attorneys and staffs going after the growing number of shady dealers who got “renewable energy tax credits” for selling fuels that were not 100% biodiesel – and others who sold fraudulent RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) to refineries that face stiff penalties if they fail to buy mandated amounts of ethanol and blend it into gasoline.

Because gasoline consumption is down, many refineries have hit a “blend wall” – meaning the gasoline they are producing already contains as much ethanol as vehicle engines and related equipment can safely handle. However, the government still requires them to buy more corn pone fuel – or purchase RINs or pay hefty fines. That drives up the price of RINs and creates many opportunities or the unscrupulous.

If Congress would simply let real free markets work, instead of mandating pseudo markets, much of this crime and corruption would end. Instead, it perpetuates perverse incentives, perks and money trains – which promote what could be the Environmentalist-Industrialist-Governmentalist Complex’s motto: “We don’t tolerate corruption. We insist on it.” Outright criminal activity is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“Green slime” doesn’t just describe algae-based biofuels. It also describes the entire DC-mandated biofuel system. About the only thing really green about it is the billions of dollars taken from taxpayers and consumers, and funneled to politicians, who dole the cash out to friendly constituents, who then return some of it as campaign contributions, to get the pols reelected, to perpetuate the gravy train.

Even some Democrats are finally questioning their party’s “steadfast support” for policies that promote “renewable” energy over oil and gas: Ben Cardin (MD), Robert Casey (PA), Kay Hagan (NC) and several colleagues have openly expressed concern about renewable mandates. One has to wonder why so many Republicans still can’t say no to ethanol.

Here are the biggest Republican ethanol boosters. Readers may want to call or email them, to present the facts and ask them why they (and most Democrats) insist on perpetuating this wasteful system, which benefits so few, at the expense of so many.

U.S. House of Representatives. Steve King IA (202-225-4426); Tom Latham IA (-5476); John Shimkus IL (-5271); Lee Terry NE (-4155); Adam Kinzinger IL (-3635.

United States Senate. Roy Blunt MO  (202-224-5721); John Hoven ND (-2551); John Thune SD (-2321); Lamar Alexander TN (-4944); Chuck Grassley (-3744).

It will be interesting to see how they defend their profligate and environmentally harmful ways.

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.

About Author

PAUL DRIESSEN is senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), public policy institutes that promote environmental stewardship, the enhancement of human health and welfare, and personal liberties and civil rights. He writes and speaks frequently on the environment, energy and economic development, malaria eradication, climate change, human rights, corporate social responsibility and sustainable development. His articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines and on news and opinion websites in the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Peru, Venezuela, South Africa, Uganda, Bangladesh and many other countries. Driessen’s book, Eco-Imperialism: Green Power - Black Death, documents the harm that restrictive environmental policies often have on poor people, especially in developing countries, by restricting their access to life-enhancing modern technologies. It is in its second US printing and has also been published in Argentina (Spanish), India (English), Germany (German) and Italy (Italian). He was editor for Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle, by CORE national chairman Roy Innis; Rules for Corporate Warriors: How to fight and survive attack group shakedowns, by Nick Nichols; and Creatures, Corals and Colors in North American Seas, by Ann Scarborough-Bull. His report, Responsible Progress in the Andes, examined ways that modern mining operations can bring jobs, infrastructure, and improved safety and pollution control practices to poor communities. Driessen’s studies and analyses have also appeared in Conserving the Environment (Doug Dupler, editor), Resurgent Diseases (Karen Miller, Editor) and Malnutrition (Margaret Haerens, editor), all part of the Thomson-Gale “Opposing Viewpoints” Series that is used in many high schools and colleges; Redefining Sovereignty: Will liberal democracies continue to determine their own laws and public policies, or yield these rights to transnational entities in search of universal order and justice? (Orin Judd, editor); and other publications. He played a lead role in the “Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now” campaign, an international effort that restored the use of DDT to African and other malaria control programs, and served as an advisor to the film “3 Billion and Counting,” examining how environmentalist and EPA campaign against DDT had devastating impacts on families in poor developing countries. Paul received his BA in geology and field ecology from Lawrence University and a JD from the University of Denver College of Law, before embarking on a career that also included tenures with the United States Senate, U.S. Department of the Interior and an energy trade association. He has produced documentary films about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, immigration through Ellis Island, and marine habitats beneath offshore oil production platforms. Driessen is also a frequent guest on radio talk shows and college campuses, and at business and public policy forums. He participates in energy, health and environmental conferences, and was active in the Public Relations Society of America, where he served as Washington, DC chapter newsletter editor and in the Social Responsibility Section.

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