Two notorious crooks are helping us wrap up another sordid episode in the saga of the United States biofuel mandates, while further highlighting how bungled and long past its expiration date the program is.
Congress concocted the mandates over fears that US gasoline demand would rise forever and keep the United States dependent on foreign oil, as America’s supposedly limited reserves were depleted. The mandates currently require that we blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol with gasoline every year, and produce over a billion gallons of biodiesel. They hammer us consumers every time we fill our tanks.
Turning corn into ethanol requires vast amounts of land, fertilizers, pesticides, tractor and truck fuel, and natural gas for distillation. It enriches some farmers but raises animal feed prices and thus the cost of beef, pork, chicken, eggs, fish and international food aid. Biodiesel from restaurant waste oil makes some sense, but making it from palm oil or soybeans has similar negative ecological impacts.
The ethanol mandate encourages farmers to plow wildlife habitats and fallow fields to grow corn, releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide. Ethanol gets one-third less mileage per gallon than gasoline, so motorists get fewer miles per tank and per dollar. It produces ozone, attracts water and corrodes car and small engine components, forcing us to spend billions on repairs.
If consumers want “alternative fuels,” natural gas presents more viable, environmental, free-market, cost-competitive choices. Compressed into high-pressure tanks, it can (and already does) power cars, trucks, taxis and buses. Converted into methanol, our abundant natural gas would enable Detroit to build light, powerful, low-pollution, high octane engines that get better mileage than ethanol-tainted fuels. Existing cars can be converted into “flex-fuel” vehicles for less than $100 – and producing the natural gas and converting it into methanol involves minimal land impacts, no food price hikes and no harm to engines.