Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Big Ethanol Lie

Yesterday, President Bush and Detroit's Big 3 automakers touted cars running on ethanol, or E85, as the future. You know the spiel - reduce dependence on foreign oil, defend our national security interests, yada yada. Of course, the cars would be flex fuel, meaning they could run gasoline, but let's focus on the fuel of the future.

Well, it's a damned lie! Bush and his buddies in Detroit want you to think they went green, while doing not a damn thing (and this isn't even a partisan rant, for my readers know which way I slant!) But better than I could ever argue, I'll excerpt quotes from Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune magazine, from a discussion on the Newshour yesterday. Here are some snippets:
The reality of the ethanol business now in America is that a lot of this rhetoric is simply being used to propagate more subsidies for this industry. The creation of corn ethanol is simply -- it borders on fiscal insanity. We're making subsidized motor fuel out of the single most subsidized crop in America. That's corn.

Second, when you look at the contribution now that corn ethanol is making and ethanol overall to the American oil mix, the ethanol industry produced about five billion gallons last year. That's the equivalent of about 200,000 barrels a day of oil equivalent. That's 1 percent of America's overall energy consumption.

If you took all of the corn in America, Ray, and converted all of that corn into ethanol, you'd produce about the equivalent of about 1.3 million barrels a day of oil equivalent. That's equal to about 6 percent of America's total oil consumption.

There's this idea somehow that, in the Renewable Fuels Association and these other ethanol boosters, that America can solve its oil imports and become more energy secure with ethanol. I think it's largely just a canard. This is just cover for propagating more subsidies for this industry.

Is ethanol really that green? Mr Byrce points out that the energy consumption in making ethanol means that there may be slim, or even negative, net energy produced by corn ethanol. So a lot of this is huey! Why are the Big 3 automakers behind it?

... the automakers are on board on this is that, by building E85 vehicles, what they are allowed to do is artificially inflate their CAFE numbers. They are actually able to artificially inflate their fleet efficiencies, and that is why they're so pro-E85. Last month, U.S. News and World Report estimated that, between 2001 and 2008, this CAFE credit loophole that they're exploiting is actually resulting in the U.S. burning something on the order of 17 billion gallons of additional fuel than they would otherwise.

And the solution. Mr Bryce is bold in calling for a motor fuel tax. Look, as a conservative, I don't like taxes, but I'm not dogmatic about them. But I would also cut the ridiculous subsidies provided to traditional energy companies, and impose a carbon-based tax on fuel.

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