Still Boondogglin'
EPA’s New Biofuels Targets Please Exactly No One

The Environmental Protection Agency finally unveiled biofuel targets for 2014, 2015, and 2016 this week, and no stakeholder is happy. Under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, the EPA sets targets for the number of gallons of ethanol fuel refiners need to blend in to gasoline. That 2007 law sketched out a rough road map for those targets, but the EPA is supposed to provide year-to-year adjustments to those mandates to adjust to changing market conditions.

Unfortunately, the agency failed to do that for 2014 and 2015—until this week, when it set levels at what was already being produced. Next year, however, the EPA will require refiners to blend 18.11 million gallons of ethanol, an 11 percent bump from 2015’s levels (yet 18 percent lower than was initially envisioned by the 2007 law). As Politico reports, that has biofuel boosters steaming mad:

“I am extremely disappointed by the EPA’s choice to reduce volume requirements for corn ethanol, which flies in the face of original congressional intent and fails to provide any incentives for expanding alternative fuel availability for consumers,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, (R-Iowa), who had previously said she was philosophically opposed to all energy subsidies, though she supports the biofuels program. “The Obama administration is once again using the EPA to impose their agenda on hard-working Iowans by instituting biofuel volume requirements that are lower than originally mandated and in direct contradiction of the law.” […]

Brent Erickson of the Biotechnology Industry Organization slammed it as “a severe blow to American consumers and the biofuels industry.” National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the mandate “exacerbates the serious damage already done to the renewable fuels industry and America’s family farmers.”

But even for everyone that isn’t directly involved in the biofuel industry, any sort of mandated corn ethanol production is a bad idea for any number of reasons: devoting these corn crops to fuel raises global food prices, starving the world’s poor; consumers pay for this boondoggle at the pump; and to top it all off, corn ethanol isn’t even green. Here’s the New York Times on the dubious ecological credentials of our biofuels policy:

[T]he program is losing support among environmentalists who say that it does not reduce carbon emissions when compared with conventional fuel. The assumption that it does, John M. DeCicco, a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, said in a conference call with reporters last week, stems from a flawed accounting of the amount of carbon dioxide that is recycled by productive farmland through the normal growth of crops used to make biofuel.

America’s biofuel boondoggle is one of those rare policies that manages to find the sour spot, where it looks bad from any angle you choose to view it. President Bush made this green lark a reality, but the Obama Administration—perhaps loathe to alienate corn belt constituents—has dutifully carried on the farce. Now, eight years later, we’re still enduring the effects of one of our country’s most nonsensical energy policy mistakes.

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