The Ethanol Disaster
America's renewables policy is bad for consumers, the environment, and the global poor
Last November, when the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposed moderating years of escalating mandates by reducing the amount of ethanol that must be mixed into gasoline, a top ethanol lobbyist seemed perplexed. "We're all just sort of scratching our heads here today and wondering why this administration is telling us to burn less of a clean-burning American fuel," Bob Dineen, head of the Renewable Fuels Association, told The New York Times.
Here are a few possible reasons why: America's ethanol requirement destroys the environment, damages car engines, increases gas prices, and contributes to the starvation of the global poor. It's an unmitigated disaster on nearly every level.
Start with the environment. After all, when the renewable fuel standard (RFS), which since 2005 has set forth a minimum annual volume of renewable fuels nationwide, was first set, one of the primary arguments for mandating ethanol use was that it was a greener, more environmentally friendly source of fuel that released fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
This turns out to be complete hogwash. Researchers have known for years that, when the entire production process is taken into account, most supposedly green biofuels actually emit more greenhouse gasses than traditional fuels.
Some proponents of the ethanol mandate have argued that the requirement was nonetheless necessary in order to spur demand for and development of more advanced, environmentally friendly biofuel like cellulosic ethanol, which is converted into fuel from corn-farm leftovers. But there are two serious problems with cellosic ethanol. The first is that cellulosic ethanol turns out to be rather difficult to produce; despite EPA projections that the market would produce at least 5 million gallons in 2010 and 6.6 million in 2011, the United States produced exactly zero gallons both years—and just 20,069 gallons in 2012.
The second is that cellulosic ethanol is also bad for the environment. At least in the short-term, the corn-residue biofuels release about 7 percent more greenhouse gases than traditional fuels, according to a federally funded, peer-reviewed study that appeared in the journal Nature Climate Change last month.
The environmental evidence against ethanol seems to mount almost daily: Another study published last week in Nature Geoscience found that in São Paulo, Brazil, the more ethanol that drivers used, the more local ozone levels increased. The study is particularly important because it relies on real-world measurements rather than on models, many of which predicted that increased ethanol use would cause ozone levels to decline.
To make things worse, ethanol requirements are bad for cars and drivers. Automakers say that gasoline blended with ethanol can damage vehicles by corroding fuel lines and injectors. An ethanol glut caused by a misalignment of regulatory quotas and demand has helped drive up prices at the pump. And the product is actually worse: ethanol blends are less energy dense than regular gasoline, which means that cars relying on it significantly worse mileage per gallon.
American drivers have it bad, but the global poor have it far worse. Ethanol requirements at home have helped drive up the price of food worldwide by diverting corn production to energy, which dramatically reducing the available calorie supply. A 25-gallon tank full of pure ethanol requires about 450 pounds of corn—roughly the amount of calories required to feed someone for a year. Some 40 percent of U.S. corn crops go to ethanol production, which in effect means we're burning food for automobile fuel rather than eating it. Studies by economists at the World Bank have found that a one percent increase in world food prices correlates with a half-percent decrease in calorie consumption amongst the world's poor. When world food prices spiked between 2007 and 2008, between 20 and 40 percent of the effect was attributable to increased global reliance on biofuels. The effect on world hunger is simply devastating.
Ethanol lobbyists are still pretending the renewable fuels mandate is a success, and Senators from corn-friendly states in the Midwest are still urging the agency not to proceed with the proposed reduction to the mandate. But at this point, ethanol requirements have few serious defenders except the people who profit from its production and the politicians who rely on those people for votes and campaign contributions.
Judging by the cut it proposed last November, even the EPA seems to be wavering. A final regulation has yet to be submitted, but the proposal would reduce the amount of renewable fuels the agency requires this year from 18.15 billion gallons to 15.2 billion gallons. That's if the EPA sticks to its original plan. The agency is under heavy pressure to moderate its proposed cuts, or avoid them entirely.
Those cuts, if approved, would represent a productive step forward. But they wouldn't be enough. Congress should vote to repeal the renewable fuel standard entirely. The federal government shouldn't be telling people to burn less ethanol; it shouldn't be telling anyone to burn any of it at all.
Manmade Climate Disruption – the Hype and Reality
Paul Driessen replies to some of the claims in Obama's "Report"
The White House has released its latest National Climate Assessment. An 829-page report and 127-page “summary” were quickly followed by press releases, television appearances, interviews and photo ops with tornado victims – all to underscore President Obama’s central claims:
Human-induced climate change, “once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” It is “affecting Americans right now,” disrupting their lives. The effects of “are already being felt in every corner of the United States.” Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington, maple syrup producers in Vermont, crop-growth cycles in Great Plains states “are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience.” Extreme weather events “have become more frequent and/or intense.”
It’s pretty scary sounding. It has to be. First, it is designed to distract us from topics that the President and Democrats do not want to talk about: ObamaCare, the IRS scandals, Benghazi, a host of foreign policy failures, still horrid jobless and workforce participation rates, and an abysmal 0.1% first quarter GDP growth rate that hearkens back to the Great Depression.
Second, fear-inducing “climate disruption” claims are needed to justify job-killing, economy-choking policies like the endless delays on the Keystone XL pipeline; still more wind, solar and ethanol mandates, tax breaks and subsidies; and regulatory compliance costs that have reached $1.9 trillion per year – nearly one-eighth of the entire US economy.
Third, scary hyperventilating serves to obscure important realities about Earth’s weather and climate, and even the NCA report itself. Although atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have been rising steadily for decades, contrary to White House claims, average planetary temperatures have not budged for 17 years.
No Category 3-5 hurricane has made landfall in the United States since 2005, the longest such period since at least 1900. Even with the recent Midwestern twisters, US tornado frequency remains very low, and property damage and loss of life from tornadoes have decreased over the past six decades.
Sea levels are rising at a mere seven inches per century. Antarctic sea ice recently reached a new record high. A new report says natural forces could account for as much as half of Arctic warming, and warming and cooling periods have alternated for centuries in the Arctic. Even in early May this year, some 30% of Lake Superior was still ice-covered, which appears to be unprecedented in historical records. And to top it off, rising CO2 levels improve forest, grassland and crop growth, greening the planet.
Press releases on the NCA report say global temperatures, heat waves, sea levels, storms, droughts and other events are “forecast” or “projected” to increase over the next century. However, the palm reading was done by computer models – which are based on the false assumption that carbon dioxide now drives climate change, and that powerful natural forces no longer play a role. The models have never been able to predict global temperatures accurately, and the divergence between model predictions and actual measured temperatures gets worse with every passing year. The models cannot even “hindcast” temperatures over the past quarter century, without using fudge factors and other clever tricks.
Moreover, much of the White House and media spin contradicts what the NCA report actually says. For example, it concludes that “there has been no universal trend in the overall extent of drought across the continental U.S. since 1900.” Other trends in severe storms, it states, “are uncertain.”
Climate change, Johnstown Floods, Dust Bowls, extreme weather events and forest fires have been part of Earth and human history forever – and no amount of White House spin can alter that fact. To suggest that any changes in weather or climate – or any temporary increases in extreme weather events – are due to humans is patently absurd. To ignore positive trends and the 17-year absence of warming is abominable.
Fourth, sticking to the “manmade climate disaster” script is essential to protect the turf, reputations, funding and power of climate alarmists and government bureaucrats. The federal government doles out some $2.6 billion annually in grants for climate research – but only for work that reflects White House perspectives. Billions more support subsidies and loans for renewable energy programs that represent major revenue streams for companies large and small, and part of that money ends up in campaign war chests for (mostly Democrat) legislators who support the climate regulatory-industrial complex.
None of them is likely to admit any doubts, alter any claims or policies, or reduce their increasingly vitriolic attacks on skeptics of “dangerous manmade global warming.” They do not want to risk being exposed as false prophets and charlatans, or worse.
Last, and most important, climate disruption claims drive a regulatory agenda that few Americans support. Presidential candidate Obama said his goal was “fundamentally transforming” the United States and ensuring that electricity rates “necessarily skyrocket.” On climate change, President Obama has made it clear that he “can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job. Where they won’t act, I will.” His Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and other officials have steadfastly implemented his anti-hydrocarbon policies.
Chief Obama science advisor John Holdren famously said: “A massive campaign must be launched to … de-develop the UnitedStates … bringing our economic system (especially patterns of consumption) into line with the realities of ecology and the global resource situation.… [Economists] must design a stable, low-consumption economy in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth.”
This agenda translates into greater government control over energy production and use, job creation and economic growth, and people’s lives, livelihoods, living standards, liberties, health and welfare. It means fewer opportunities and lower standards of living for poor and middle class working Americans. It means greater power and control for politicians, bureaucrats, activists and judges – but with little or no accountability for mistakes made, damage done or penalties exacted on innocent people.
A strong economy, modern technologies, and abundant, reliable, affordable energy are absolutely essential if we are to adapt to future climate changes, whatever their cause – and survive the heat waves, cold winters, floods, droughts and vicious weather events that will most certainly continue coming.
The Obama agenda will reduce our capacity to adapt, survive and thrive. It will leave more millions jobless, and reduce the ability of families to heat and cool their homes properly, assure nutritious meals, pay their rent or mortgage, and pursue their American dreams.
America’s minority and blue collar families will suffer – while Washington, DC power brokers and lobbyists will continue to enjoy a standard of living, housing boom and luxury cars unknown in the nation’s heartland. Think Hunger Games or the Politburo and nomenklatura of Soviet Russia.
Worst, it will all be for nothing, even if carbon dioxide does exert a stronger influence on Earth’s climate than actual evidence suggests. While the United States slashes its hydrocarbon use, job creation, economic growth and international competitiveness, China, India, Brazil, Indonesia – and Spain, Germany, France and Great Britain – will all continue increasing their coal use … and CO2 emissions.
President Obama and White House advisor John Podesta are convinced that Congress and the American people have no power or ability to derail the Administration’s determination to unilaterally enact costly policies to combat “dangerous manmade climate disruption” – and that the courts will do nothing to curb their use of executive orders and regulatory fiats.
If they are right, we are in for some very rough times – and it becomes even more critical that voters eject Harry Reid and his Senate majority, to restore some semblance of checks and balances.
Repeal the Gas Tax…and Get Rid of the Department of Transportation
Daniel J. Mitchell
More than three years ago, I wrote that the Department of Transportation should be dismantled for the simple reason that we’ll get better roads at lower cost with the federalist approach of returning responsibility to state and local governments.
I echoed those sentiments in this CNBC interview.
Since there’s only an opportunity to exchange soundbites in these interviews, let me elaborate on some of the reasons why transportation should be a state and local responsibility.
1. Washington involvement is a recipe for pork and corruption. Lawmakers in Congress – including Republicans – get on the Transportation Committees precisely because they can buy votes and raise campaign cash by diverting taxpayer money to friends and cronies.
2. Washington involvement in transportation is just the tip of the iceberg. As I said in the interview, the federal budget is mostly a scam where endless streams of money are shifted back and forth in leaky buckets. This scam is great for insiders and bad news for taxpayers.
3. Washington involvement necessarily means another layer of costly bureaucracy. And this is not a trivial issues since the Department of Transportation is infamous for overpaid bureaucrats.
4. Washington involvement gives state and local politicians an excuse to duck responsibility for low-quality infrastructure. Why make adult decisions, after all, when you can shift the blame to DC for not providing enough handouts.
While I think I made some decent points in the interview, I should have addressed the assertion that our infrastructure is falling apart. My colleague at the Cato Institute, Chris Edwards, effectively dealt with this scare tactic in hisrecent Congressional testimony.
I also should have pointed out that a big chunk of the gas tax is diverted to boondoggle mass transit projects.
Last but not least, I’m disappointed that I failed to connect some very important dots. Gov. Rendell and the CNBC host both fretted that the current system isn’t producing a desirable outcome, but they’re the ones advocating for a continuation of the status quo! Heck, they want even more of the system that they admit doesn’t work.
How much porn does it take to get fired at EPA?
As a U.S. House committee looked at allegations that a special homeland security unit within the Environmental Protection Agency was blocking investigations by the EPA's Inspector General, lawmakers also veered into other internal probes at that agency, demanding to know why it is so difficult to get rid of federal workers involved in on-the-job misconduct.
"When we have an employee who is looking at over 600 porn sites in a four day period - and it's there in black and white - fire them!" said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
At the hearing, investigators detailed for lawmakers how a six figure EPA employee had admitted watching large amounts of porn on the job; he remains on the payroll, but his case has been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.
"So this guy is making $125,000, spending two to six hours a day looking at porno," said Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who was told by officials that the worker had been given performance awards - despite one time spending four straight hours on a website called, "Sadism is Beautiful."
"How much pornography would it take for an EPA employee to lose their job?" asked a frustrated Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
There was no concrete response from officials, given the lengthy process that it takes for the federal government to "separate" an employee from the civil service.
One note about this case - when an agent from the IG's office went to interview the employee in question about his porn habit - that agent found the man sitting at his desk - watching porn.
"The OIG’s investigation determined that the employee downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic files during duty hours," the IG's office reported.
Other cases discussed before the House Oversight Committee included an EPA employee who had been tele-working from home for 20 years - but not really producing anything on a regular basis - seemingly with the backing of the boss.
"It is estimated that the manager’s approval of fraudulent time-and-attendance records cost the government more than $500,000," said Allan Williams of the EPA Inspector General's office.
Williams detailed for lawmakers how the manager allowed the employee to not show up at work, not produce any work of value for the agency, and yet still give that employee "exemplary performance appraisals that resulted in a cash award to the employee."
"Just unbelievable," said a disgusted Rep. Mica.
Australia: Queensland government approves mega coal mine in Galilee Basin
One in the eye for Greenies
The Queensland government has signed off on what could be the biggest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world.
Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney told parliament on Thursday the proposed $16.5 billion Indian-owned Adani Carmichael coal mine project in the Galilee Basin had been approved by the state's coordinator-general.
The mine is still to receive federal approval.
But Mr Seeney said he believed it would serve a "vital role" in opening the Galilee basin, which is also home to Clive Palmer's proposed coal mine and the Hancock-GVK Alpha mine project.
"The [Carmichael] project has the potential to create 2500 construction and 3900 operational jobs," he said.
"Jobs that would be significant to the future economic prosperity of that region and to all of Queensland.
"It also includes a 189-kilometre rail line, water supply infrastructure, coal handling and processing plant and off-site infrastructure including workers' accommodation village and airport."
At full export capacity, the mine is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of thermal coal per annum for export.
The coordinator-general set down 190 conditions in a 600-page report.
Mr Seeney said Adani would be required to reach "make-good agreements with all affected landholders including the identification and provision of alternative water supplies".
“Adani will also be required to contribute water monitoring data and funding to a Galilee region water resource model," Mr Seeney.
The Queensland Coordinator-General’s report has been sent to the Commonwealth environment minister for a decision.
A Greenie pesticide ban bites the dust in one Australian State
TASMANIA'S new Liberal government is scrapping a ban on the controversial pesticide 1080. The former Labor-Green government had imposed a ban due to begin next year.
Primary industries minister Jeremy Rockliff said the chemical would not be phased out until a viable alternative was available.
"One of the many challenges facing our farmers is the significant pasture and crop losses caused by some of our abundant wildlife - particularly wallabies and possums," Mr Rockliff said in a statement.
Farmers have applauded the move, saying they lose on average a quarter of their income to browsing animals.
"Animal rights campaigners have suggested fencing is the solution (but) it is enormously expensive and, in many areas, physically impractical," Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association boss Jan Davis said.
Green groups, though, reacted angrily to the announcement, saying it went against community sentiment. "Resorting to 1080 poison is the cheapest, nastiest and cruellest way to prevent browsing by native animals," state Greens leader Kim Booth said.
The poison, also known as sodium fluoroacetate, is widely used to bait foxes in Australia.
For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.
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