Forbes: Tilting At Windmills: Keeping Food Out Of The Gas Tank

Feb 9, 2015
In The News

Ooops! They did it again. Representatives Goodlatte, Welch, Womack and Costa are back with their bill to reform the Renewable Fuel Standards. It’s goes by the more formal name and less descriptive name; H.R. 703. It was introduced as legislation on Feb 4, 2015.

This bill was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a temperance advocate in a bar by the Renewal Fuel Association, which exists to promote ethanol usage. The CEO of the RFA, Bob Dinneen, reacted to the bill’s re-introduction with a statement declaring, “The announcement today is a step backward in energy policy, cutting the legs out from under a burgeoning cellulosic biofuels industry, denying consumers choice at the pump, and returning us to a petroleum only energy economy that brings nothing but price volatility and environmental disaster,”

The Heartland Institute is a long time opponent of ethanol subsidies and fuel supplies and a spokesperson for Heartland was quick to assure me, “I would welcome passage of this bill. Considering this winter’s low gasoline prices were the first significant economic relief Americans have experienced in years, ending the ethanol blend requirements would be great for improving the power density of the fuel we put in our cars, and thus taking that relief a step further.”

Hmm…Sounds like we have a straight-up classical divide between the environmentalists and the mean dirty oil folks but don’t be mislead.

First, the sponsors of H.R. 703 are bipartisan. Representatives Bob Goodlatte and Steve Womack are Republicans hail from the states of Virginia and Arkansas respectively. Representatives Peter Welch and Jim Costa represent the states of Vermont and California. Yes, politics does make for some strange bedfellows and there’s your proof.

What the congressmen have in common is their concern that the amount of ethanol required in the Renewable Fuels Standard is “unworkable”.  That standard is set by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is required by law to set the rules on how much ethanol is supposed to blended into gasoline. The EPA never released its final rule for last year’s volume standards and the agency has proposed pushing back the release of the 2015 requirements. (and before you go blaming the Democrats or the Obama Administration, understand this idea of mandates began under President Bush and was expanded by his EPA)

The four congressmen do not stand alone in their belief these mandates/ standards/ requirements have problems. When the bill was introduced last year, 218 House members supported the bill and more than 50 diverse groups supported their effort to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard. Late last year, an article on the conservative website, RedState, noted that this is an issue where environmentalists and energy advocates can come together.

In a piece last month I asked why we want to take food off our tables and feed them to our cars instead of people. Representative Goodlatte sees the issue as what he calls a “kitchen table” issue, meaning that it’s one of those financial topics that is routinely discussed by his constituents over a meal. The congressman says that, “…whether they run a restaurant, farm for a living, have seen an engine ruined by ethanol or noticed an increase in their grocery bills… Many of my constituents feel that it is a priority to repeal the RFS, and I agree.”

For those of you who think it’s more of a science issue, there are plenty of scientists who are concerned about ethanol’s use which ironically increases the amount of CO2 in the air. If interested in that aspect, you can begin with this federally funded study by the Department of Energy which was published in Nature Climate Change.

Don’t get me wrong, I love farmers. I love corn. I just think they are better ways to fuel our cars besides feeding our food to cars and trucks.