Crony biofuel politics wag the dog
By Paul Driessen
Talk about the Norfolk terrier tail wagging the Great Dane. If they are to have any hope of winning their party's nomination, Republican presidential hopefuls better support ethanol mandates, Hawkeye State politicos told potential candidates at the recent Iowa Agricultural Summit in Des Moines.
"Don't mess with the RFS," Republican Governor Terry Branstad warned, referring to Renewable Fuel Standards that require refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. "It is the Holy Grail, and I will defend it," said Rep. Steve King, another Iowa Republican. It is vital for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and preventing dangerous climate change and weather extremes, said others.
Corn ethanol is big in Iowa, the March 7-8 Ag Summit kicked off the state's 2016 election debates, big-time GOP donor Bruce Rastetter made his fortune from ethanol and hosted the event, and the first presidential primary will be held in Iowa. Moreover, Gov. Branstad's son Eric directs the multi-million-dollar America's Renewable Future campaign, which co-sponsored the summit and hopes to convince increasingly skeptical voters that the federal government must retain the RFS or even expand it.
Failure to back the RFS means sayonara to any White House hopes, candidates were told. Appropriately chastened, many normally free market proponents dutifully took to the podium to endorse the mandates.
Some cited national security as a justification. The RFS reduces demand for foreign oil, Jeb Bush asserted. Biofuels are a way for America to "fuel itself," said Mike Huckabee. "Every gallon of ethanol … is one less gallon you have to buy from people who hate your guts," Lindsay Graham added.
Others focused on allegedly unfair competition. Rick Santorum said the RFS helps ensure that other competitive products besides oil and natural gas "are allowed into [the energy] stream." Scott Walker recanted his previous opposition and said someday the ethanol industry won't need these mandates, but right now it "needs government assistance," because "we don't have a free and open marketplace."
Bush and Santorum added that ethanol boosts corn-state economies and creates jobs "in small town and rural America." Chris Christie said the RFS is "what the law requires" and we need to comply with it. Rick Perry seemed to say it's time to end federal mandates – and let states pick winners and losers.
That's fine. But now that they have bowed to the biofuel gods, kowtowed to the small cadre of Iowa corn growers, sought the blessings of crony capitalist campaign contributors, and repeated the standard deviations from facts about green energy, climate change and national security, perhaps they will pay closer attention to other candidates, and to what's actually happening in the energy and climate arenas.
Presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul remained firm in their belief that the RFS should be phased out now. Cruz has joined Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and others in sponsoring bills to abolish the corn ethanol RFS over five years.
If refiners and gas stations really are working with big oil to cut off access, Cruz suggested, "there are remedies in the federal antitrust laws to deal with that." Otherwise "the right answer" is to let biofuels keep innovating and producing on their own, "and not have Washington dictating what is happening."
Biofuel's problem is not lack of access or unfair competition. It's that the world has changed since ethanol subsidies and mandates were enacted in 2005. Back then, people more plausibly believed we were running out of petroleum, and global warming might become a serious problem.
But then hydraulic fracturing took off. This steadily improving 60-year-old technology turned the United States into the world's #1 producer of oil and natural gas – and the U.S. is now importing one-third of its oil, instead of two-thirds. Gasoline prices have plunged, making ethanol much less cost-competitive.
Motorists are buying less gasoline than the 2005 and 2007 ethanol mandates envisioned, so refiners don't need even 14 billion gallons of corn ethanol a year, much less the 15 billion statutory cap. They've hit a "blend wall," and are being forced to buy far more ethanol than they can blend into E10 gasoline. They certainly don't need an extra 21 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2022 – and innovators still haven't figured out how to make that "advanced biofuel" at a profit.
Using tax dollars to prop up new subsidies, and imposing 15% ethanol gasoline mandates, would be a ridiculous response. The last thing we need is more citizen cash for crony capitalist cellulosic capers.
As to climate fears, no Category 3-5 hurricane has hit the United States since late 2005, the longest such period in more than a century, and perhaps since the Civil War. Tornado activity is also down. Arctic ice has returned to normal and Antarctic ice is at record levels. Sea levels are rising at barely six inches per century. The global frequency and duration of droughts, rainfall and snowfall is within historic norms.
Where is the crisis? The fossil fuel link? If human carbon dioxide emissions drive climate change, did steadily rising atmospheric CO2 levels cause all these blessings and normalcy, and average global temperatures to hold steady for 18 years? The far more likely answer is that the sun and other natural forces still dominate climate and weather systems, as they have throughout Earth and human history – and as actual, real-world temperature, climate, weather, solar and other observations strongly suggest.
IPCC, EPA, NASA, Obama, Penn State, East Anglia University and other climate models and alarms are completely at odds with what is happening on Planet Earth. No wonder alarmists are now so desperate that they blame every weather event on fossil fuels, and viciously attack scientists who point to reality … and threaten their Climate Crisis, Inc. money machine and regulatory power grab.
On top of all the corporate and scientist welfare, rip-offs and McCarthyite tactics, the manmade climate cataclysm mantra has also created a steady stream of corruption and scandal. Former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber was forced to resign, after he and his fiancé Cylvia Hayes profited (and failed to report $118,000 in income) from "green energy" schemes. Current Oregon Global Warming Commission chairman Angus Duncan is also president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which makes millions from regional and national sales of renewable energy and "Green Tag" carbon offsets; he also helped write the state's climate change strategy and cap-and-trade system!
Tens of billions of dollars in wheeling, dealing, nepotism and corporate-environmentalist-political cronyism is intolerable. The Branstad governor-son arrangement raises sniff tests of its own.
Then there are the practical problems. A few corn and soybean farmers get rich. But meat and poultry producers pay far more for feed, and family food bills keep rising. Perhaps worse, says the World Bank, turning half of the U.S. corn crop into fuel creates aid and food shortages in poor nations. More people stay hungry longer, and more die of malnutrition and starvation. The UN Food and Agriculture Association says this has caused food riots and calls it an environmental "crime against humanity."
Ethanol-blends get fewer miles per tank than pure gasoline. They collect water, corrode engine parts, and cause serious maintenance and repair problems for lawn mowers, chain saws, snowmobiles, emergency generators and other small engines. Classic car enthusiast and former Late Night host Jay Leno says ethanol "eats through fuel pump diaphragms, old rubber fuel lines or pot metal parts, then leaks out on hot engines … and ka-bloooooie!" The older cars catch fire – far more often than before E10 was required.
A new Oregon State University study says biofuels barely reduce fossil fuel use and are likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions. And US Department of Energy and other studies demonstrate that producing biofuels requires unsustainable amounts of land, water, fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels.
Not surprisingly, even many likely Iowa voters are now skeptical of federal ethanol mandates. Nearly half of them no longer support the RFS even if it helps some Iowa farmers. Republican presidential candidates who surrendered to a gaggle of Iowa corn growers and renewable fuel interests need to reflect long and hard on these ethanol and corruption realities, and the broader national interest.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death, and coauthor of Cracking Big Green: Saving the world from the Save-the-Earth money machine.