The Ethanol Boondoggle
But Won’t Ethanol Help Stop Global Warming?
“Some are weatherwise, some are otherwise.” –Benjamin Franklin (1735)
Here in the mountains of east Tennessee, we distill corn mash to produce a product provincially known as Moonshine – because it is often produced and transported under cover of darkness. Arguably, it is a more useful and beneficial product than that toxic form of distilled alcohol from corn mandated for fuel blends by the Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called “Renewable Fuel” Standard.
Now, the word “corny” is an adjective, akin to trite, banal, hackneyed, tired, stale, cheesy, schmaltzy, mushy and sloppy. Those descriptors would be much too kind if applied to the “science” (read: “political calculus”) behind the EPA’s mandate for producing and converting corn into ethanol and mixing it with fuel. However, the EPA may be ratcheting up that mandate to require a higher percentage of ethanol in fuel, citing spurious claims that ethanol is better for the environment than fossil fuels.
The topical answer is that the liberal elite wing of the New Democratic Party, along with a few Corn Belt Republican subsidizers, argue ethanol produces less CO2 after combustion than fossil fuels.
And they are correct.
Combustion of ethanol does produce less CO2 than fossil fuel combustion, which proponents of ethanol claim is the primary factor responsible for anthropogenic global warm … er, “climate change.”
So, if ethanol additives reduce CO2 in the exhaust of automobiles, what’s the problem?
The problem is that the overall environmental and human impact of producing corn for conversion into ethanol is devastating. And on top of that, there is little net CO2 reduction from fuel/ethanol blends when one considers the net CO2 increases from cultivation of corn, its distillation into ethanol and its transportation to refineries for fuel blending.
In 2008, just before Barack Hussein Obama’s election, the decidedly left-of-center Time magazine ran a cover story entitled “The Clean Energy Myth,” noting, “Politicians and big business are pushing biofuels like corn-based ethanol as alternatives to oil. All they’re doing is driving up food prices and making global warming worse – and you’re paying for it.”
That notwithstanding, the Obama administration made implementation of ethanol mandates its first objective in appeasement of their “climate change” constituency, regardless of the fact that the evidence for the net CO2 reduction rationale was dubious.
There were and remain significant collateral consequences of the ethanol mandate, most notably the inflated cost of grain (read: food) across the board caused by the diversion of corn for ethanol production and the dire implications this has for starving Third World children.
More than 90% of our nation’s corn crop went toward feeding people and livestock in the year 2000, with less than 5% of the crop going toward ethanol. In 2013, however, a whopping 40% went toward ethanol.
To illustrate this grossly inefficient use of our natural resources, the amount of grain required to fill a 25-gallon automotive fuel tank with ethanol is enough grain to feed one person for an entire year.
If you don’t think you’re paying for this, you haven’t been paying attention to your food bill.
In 2009, a Duke University study reaffirmed Time magazine’s analysis that growing corn for production into biofuel may produce more CO2 than it saves as an alternative to fossil fuel.
More recently, the Associated Press undertook an in-depth investigation into “The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama’s Green Power Push.” The investigation concludes:
“The ethanol era has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today. As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies… Five million acres of land set aside for conservation – more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined – have vanished on Obama’s watch. Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil. Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can’t survive. The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.”
Separate studies by Princeton University’s Tim Searchinger and Nature Conservancy’s Joe Fargione reached similar conclusions.
And in a comprehensive study, “The Ethanol Mandate: Don’t Mend It, End It,” researcher Nicolas Loris concludes:
“After accounting for land-use conversion, the use of fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides, as well as the fossil fuels used for production and distribution, biofuel production is quite carbon-intensive. … The mandate promised less dependence on foreign oil, lower fuel prices, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of delivering on these promises, the mandate delivered concentrated benefits to politically connected producers and higher costs to America’s energy consumers.”
But to no avail.
Comedian Al Franken, who routinely embarrasses Minnesotans by impersonating a U.S. senator from their state, affirms that, “based on [his] conversations with [White House adviser] John Podesta and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy,” the EPA is going to raise the ethanol requirement for fuel.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) argues, “The Renewable Fuel Standard is fundamentally broken and beyond repair. Instead of delivering meaningful environmental benefits, it’s driven up food and fuel costs for American families. This flawed program will also inevitably lead to widespread lawsuits against American manufacturers. When Congress enacts bad policy, the right response is to scrap it and start over.”
But the federal government’s ethanol mandates are proving to be a typical case study in how, once the state funds a program that the free market won’t, the political implications of that program make it virtually impossible to undo. Despite the lack of evidence for any net carbon emission reductions, the constriction and loss of biodiversity, the significant deforestation and soil erosion associated with increased grain production, the enormous impact on water quality and aquatic species, and the implications for starving children, the ethanol mandate lives on.
Oh, did I mention that gasoline engine mechanics, who work on everything from weed eaters to drag racers, affirm that ethanol is very destructive to engines and engine components? Did you know that ethanol combustion produces significantly more formaldehyde – which results in more than twice the amount of choking ozone smog? Or that ethanol also costs consumers a 15-cent premium per gallon?
All in the name of protecting the world from “climate change.”
They used to call it “global warming,” but with no upward global temperature trend in almost 18 years, and NOAA now reporting that the U.S. climate is cooler and wetter for the first six months of 2014 than any year since 1993, the proper political vernacular of the day is “climate change,” the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose construction that encompasses all things weather related, not just temperature trends. Thus, if it’s cold and wet or warm and dry, it’s all blamed on CO2, and the eco-theologians insist that the U.S. must unilaterally and dramatically cut CO2 production from all sources. (See our comprehensive summary, “Global Warming: Fact, Fiction and Political Endgame.”)
The EPA’s ethanol mandate is a nice fit with Obama’s War on Energy Independence, including his “clean coal mandates” and refusing to complete the Keystone XL pipeline.
Of course, the “Real ‘Climate Change’ Agenda” has little to do with climate and much more to do with a global economic agenda, which depends on populist alarm about global weather changes to drive the “redistributive economic justice” policies of Barack Obama and his socialist cadres.
“The debate is settled,” Obama insists, but only if by “settled” he means that global “climate change” alarmism has been thoroughly embraced as the primary propaganda tool for his agenda.
In his 1735 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin observed, “Some are weatherwise, some are otherwise.” While the Left promotes its agenda as “weatherwise” and its detractors as “deniers,” the fact is, they are otherwise.
Pro Deo et Constitutione – Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis
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