Tag: Biofuels

Slowly, the Truth About Ethanol Emerges

We’ve talked quite a bit about the dangerous delusion of ethanol fuel. It creates (maybe) as much energy as it consumes, so it doesn’t actually benefit our energy situation. It diverts corn to fueling cars instead of people, thus raising global food prices and causing hunger. It tears up engines. It doesn’t benefit the economy. And … to cap it off … it actually harms the environment.

Conservatives and libertarians have been saying this for a decade. Looks like the AP finally caught on:

But 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, an Associated Press investigation found.

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.

All right, let’s take on that last part first. I don’t know of a polite way to say this but … to hell with the farming industry. I am sick and tired of Washington’s romantic vision of farming and anything that can remotely be called farming. We’re not talking about Ma and Pa Kettle tending their 40 acres like my grandparents did; this is Monsanto and DuPont and other mega-businesses raking in tons of money to rape the land. This is driving family farmers to ruin their own plots. One of the main characters in the AP’s report is a family farmer debating whether to ruin his 91 acres while out-of-towners buy up the entire county and plow up the land for corn. Ethanol isn’t <>Little House on the Prairie.

The key to understanding the Obama Administration has never been their supposed socialism or radicalism or Alinskyism or whatever else Sean Hannity has been talking about this week; it’s how much they bend and sway for every big special interest group out there. The healthcare reform bill was practically written by insurance lobbyists and honed by union lobbyists. Their labor policies are entirely dictated by union money. They never proposed a serious alternative to the sequester because they couldn’t figure out which special interest to sell out in favor of the others.

And their “environmental” policy is not dictated by science, data or any concern for the Earth. It’s dictated by alternative energy interests. It’s dictated by campaign contributors and bundlers. And it is dictated by the massive ethanol lobby that continue to rake in billions from this planet-befouling, car-destroying, economy-crippling poison. And the only reason there is now a growing pushback? Because some lobbyists are now aligning against ethanol.

You should read the entire article, which is long but worth your time. The idiocy and mendacity of the Administration would be astounding except that it’s what we’ve gotten used to from these clowns. They are puzzled that artificially driving up the price of corn has resulted in … people growing far more corn than the environment can realistically support. They’ve turned back decades of progress that has seen crop yields boom while land use, fertilizer use and pollution have fallen. In some areas, they are driving us toward a second Dust Bowl. Remember when Obama used to say no lobbyists would work in his Administration? Yeah, he had ethanol lobbyists and their adherents on his staff.

Ironically, it was the EPA that saw what was coming and tried to warn them about it. The Administration responded by — tell me if this sounds familiar — forcing the EPA to change its analysis until it produced the conclusion they wanted.

This is a catastrophe. And the people who should be leading the charge against ethanol are Obama’s own dim-bulb supporters. I can guarantee you that if five million acres of conservation land disappeared under Bush, the environmentalist would be going completely apeshit. But the most we’re getting is polite missives and “concern” and a thousandth of the protest we’d get if Mitt Romney squashed a daisy.

Beating the Dead Ethanol Cow

We’ve been over this and over this: corn ethanol is a disaster. It’s fiscal sinkhole, an environmental fiasco and an engineering nightmare. It tears apart cars, encourages monocropping and raises food prices. And it is net energy loser. Libertarians, environmentalists, most conservatives, engineers and many liberals have found agreement on this one topic: corn ethanol needs to go.

You would think that with the worst drought since the Dust Bowl sending food prices through the roof and pushing livestock farmers to the brink of bankruptcy, the EPA might … oh, maybe not abolish this boondoggle once and forever … but at least delay it long enough for the American farmer to recover.

You would, of course, think wrong. Despite crop yields being down 30% and 40 fucking percent of corn now going to engine-destroying, air-polluting, energy-consuming ethanol; despite the possibility that we will have no corn reserves next year in case another drought hits, the EPA has stood with Big Ethanol.

They are not going to be satisfied until every pig in the midwest is butchered, every farmer goes bankrupt and starvation erupts in the world. In All the Trouble in the World, P.J. O’Rourke noted that very few famines happen because of a lack of food. They are almost always created by incompetent or misguided governments (see my earlier post on starvation in Mao’s China or read up on the Irish Potato Famine). Are we facing another man-made an utterly preventable famine?

God, I hope not.

The Green Fleet


On Monday, the U.S. Navy will officially announce the ships for its demonstration of the “Great Green Fleet” — an entire aircraft carrier strike group powered by biofuels and other eco-friendly energy sources. If a powerful congressional panel has its way, it could be the last time the Navy ever uses biofuels to run its ships and jets.

In its report on next year’s Pentagon budget, the House Armed Services Committee banned the Defense Department from making or buying an alternative fuel that costs more than a “traditional fossil fuel.” It’s a standard that may be almost impossible to meet, energy experts believe; there’s almost no way the tiny, experimental biofuel industry can hope to compete on price with the massive, century-old fossil fuels business.

The greens are up in arms about this but the shouldn’t be. Biofuels cost anywhere from four to ten times as much as fossil fuels. And as I keep saying, price communicates information. In this case, the information that biofuels are inefficient, dirty and environmentally unsound (read Rolling Stone’s article on ethanol here). Moreover, many of the fuels they are using — such as waste grease — are unlikely to be sustainable on a large scales.

There is one thing to complain about: the bill removes the restrictions on alternative fuels that pollute more than traditional fuels, which could open up the dirty methods like Fischer-Tropsch (which Wired, in a remarkable display of journalistic objectivity, reminds us was used by Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa).

But biofuels are simply not ready for prime time. This isn’t “stimulating” an industry to develop. This is corporate welfare designed to prop up dirty inefficiency fuels that can not compete with fossil fuels — let alone nuclear — in efficiency, price or environmental impact.

There are some energy efficiencies the military is finding — using solar power in Aghanistan or software that runs ships more efficiently. But this is simply playing politics and wasting money. End it.

Pawlenty Goes There

With Mitch Daniels out, the GOP nomination is quickly narrowing, at least in the non-crazy division. And I think Tim Pawlenty just scored some big points with a speech in Iowa:

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a potentially risky move during his campaign launch speech in Iowa: he called for a phaseout of ethanol subsidies.

“The hard truth is that there are no longer any sacred programs,” said Pawlenty. “The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.”

Presidential candidates have been extremely loathe to criticize ethanol since Iowa is the first stop on the way to the White House. Obama bailed on them as did Gingrich. So Pawlenty deserves some credit.

However, let’s not get too excited just yet. Pawlenty has given no indication that I can find about whether he intends to end the biggest ethanol subsidy — the mandate that we have to include this polluting, engine-grinding filth in our gas. That’s the larger concern. Gingrich, for example, once said we would end direct subsidies by going for the indirect subsidy of ethanol mandates.

In the end, it will come down to Congress to have the stones to stop ethanol subsidies — direct or indirect. And I see little hope there. Even with the biggest fiscal crisis in our history and a crashed debt ceiling, they haven’t taken any steps against ethanol. I see little hope that they will do so under Obama or Pawlenty. After all, Bush said he would reform Social Security and the GOP congress punted on that too.