Ex­plod­ing the myths be­hind bio­fu­els

Re­new­able en­ergy isn’t all it’s pumped up to be

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Paul Driessen

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Nov. 15 pro­posal to re­duce its bio­fuel tar­get for 2014 is a step in the right di­rec­tion, but doesn’t go far enough. Ethanol and other bio­fuel pro­grams may have orig­i­nated for the best of in­ten­tions. How­ever, they are jus­ti­fied only by anti-hy­dro­car­bon ide­olo­gies and ques­tion­able claims of “loom­ing dis­as­ters” such as re­source de­ple­tion and cat­a­strophic, man-made global warm­ing. They also un­der­score how hard it is to al­ter poli­cies and pro­grams once they have been launched by Wash­ing­ton.

The se­duc­tive jus­ti­fi­ca­tions used to per­pet­u­ate them demon­strate why th­ese pro­grams must be sharply re­duced — or scrapped:

Re­new­able fu­els will pre­vent oil de­ple­tion and re­duce im­ports. Baloney. U.S. oil and nat­u­ral-gas pro­duc­tion was de­clin­ing and im­ports were ris­ing for decades be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and politi­cians blocked leas­ing and drilling. They sought to jus­tify a non-hy­dro­car­bon fu­ture that would give them greater con­trol over our econ­omy and liv­ing stan­dards. They also wanted to se­cure votes from farm­ers and com­pa­nies that ben­e­fited from this Wash­ing­ton-man­dated in­dus­try, and to trans­fer wealth from tax­pay­ers and con­sumers to the new po­lit­i­cal power bro­kers.

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, and gen­er­ated hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and gov­ern­ment rev­enues. Open­ing ar­eas now closed to leas­ing would greatly ex­pand th­ese ben­e­fits.

Re­new­able fu­els re­duce carbon-diox­ide emis­sions and cli­mate change. Bunk. Ethanol pro­duc­tion and use in gaso­line ac­tu­ally in­crease carbon-diox­ide out­put and air­bor­neo­zone lev­els.

More­over, there is no ev­i­dence that ris­ing carbon-diox­ide lev­els are caus­ing cli­mate chaos. Av­er­age global tem­per­a­tures have not in­creased in 16 years. 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. Even the lat­est U.N. In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change re­port fi­nally ac­knowl­edges this tem­per­a­ture stand­still and the in­abil­ity of com­puter mod­els to fore­cast tem­per­a­tures and cli­mate changes.

Bio­fu­els are bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment. Non­sense. We are plow­ing an area big­ger than Iowa to grow corn for ethanol — mil­lions of acres that could be re­served for food crops or wildlife habi­tat. The en­ergy per acre is mi­nus­cule com­pared to what we get from oil and gas. To meet the new 1.3 bil­lion-gal­lon biodiesel man­date, producers will have to ex­tract oil from 430 mil­lion bushels of soy­beans — con­vert­ing count­less more acres from food or habi­tat to en­ergy pro­duc­tion.

Grow­ing th­ese fuel stocks also re­quires mas­sive quan­ti­ties of pes­ti­cides, fer­til­iz­ers, fos­sil fu­els — and wa­ter. The Depart­ment of En­ergy says frack­ing re­quires just 0.6 to 6.0 gal­lons of wa­ter (fresh or brack­ish) per mil­lion Bri­tish ther­mal units of en­ergy pro­duced. Corn-based ethanol re­quires 2,500 to 29,000 gal­lons of fresh wa­ter per mil­lion BTUs of en­ergy, and biodiesel from soy­beans con­sumes an as­tound­ing and un­sus­tain­able 14,000 to 75,000 gal­lons of fresh wa­ter per mil­lion BTUs.

Farm­ers ben­e­fit from ethanol. Cer­tainly, some get rich. How­ever, beef, pork, chicken, egg and fish producers must pay more for feed, so fam­ily food bills go up. Bio­fuel man­dates also mean in­ter­na­tional aid agen­cies pay more for corn and wheat, so more hun­gry peo­ple re­main mal­nour­ished.

Ethanol re­sults in cheaper gas and bet­ter mileage. Rub­bish. Ethanol gets 30 per­cent 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 lawn­mow­ers and other small en­gines. Ethanol cre­ates jobs. Tax­payer sub­si­dies do prop up jobs — by tak­ing money from pro­duc­tive sec­tors and con­sumers, thereby killing other jobs.

How­ever, ethanol is cre­at­ing jobs for investigators and pros­e­cu­tors. They are round­ing up shady ethanol deal­ers who fraud­u­lently claim re­new­able en­ergy tax cred­its or ped­dle bogus Re­new­able Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Num­bers, which re­finer­ies buy to ver­ify that they have blended man­dated amounts of ethanol into their gaso­line. Be­cause gaso­line con­sump­tion is down, many re­finer­ies have hit a “blend wall.” The gaso­line they pro­duce al­ready con­tains as much ethanol as ve­hi­cle en­gines and re­lated equip­ment can safely han­dle. How­ever, when the gov­ern­ment re­quires them to buy still more corn­pone fuel, their only al­ter­na­tive is to pur­chase Re­new­able Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Num­bers or pay hefty fines.

If Congress would let real free mar­kets work, in­stead of man­dat­ing pseudo-mar­kets, much of this crime and cor­rup­tion would end.

About the only thing “green” about bio­fu­els is the bil­lions of dol­lars taken from tax­pay­ers and con­sumers and fun­neled to politi­cians, who dole out cash to friendly con­stituents. They, in turn, re­turn some of it as cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to get the pols re-elected, per­pet­u­at­ing the gravy train.

While both Democrats and Repub­li­cans have trou­ble say­ing no to ethanol, some are be­gin­ning to ques­tion their par­ties’ stead­fast sup­port for poli­cies that pro­mote re­new­able en­ergy over oil and gas. The EPA’s re­cent re­duc­tion in its bio­fu­els tar­get rep­re­sents a wel­come con­ces­sion to com­mon sense.

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