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From Oil Addicts to Alcoholics:

GWU law professor Arnold Reitze, one of the nation's leading experts on environmental law, has an essay in The Environmental Forum arguing that the political scramble to address energy security and environmental pollution from automobiles has led to an unsustainable and unwise fixation on ethanol. The renewable content mandate for gasoline is all about subsidizing corn farmers, not developing desirable alternative energy sources. Reitze's paper now available in SSRN here, and it's worth a look.

Grain Alcoholic (mail) (www):
A good article and further evidence of the sustained influence of agribusiness in american politics, despite the sector's decreasing growth.

I also wasn't aware that GWU has respected eviro scholars or progams (or really any notable programs outside IP). Maybe I'll take a closer look at it this fall.
7.27.2007 3:36pm
Henri Le Compte (mail):
I think the fundamental problem is that nobody-- not the politicians, and certainly not the environmentalists-- wants to tell the public exactly how expensive and unpleasant all this feel-good environmentalism is going to be. People out here like to think of themselves as the "good" people; the kind of people the TV tells us we should be. "Help the environment? Sure! Those greedy oil companies! They're just so... horrible." So everybody is looking for a pain-free, fix-all solution to carbon emissions, oil dependency, etc. For the time being, the miracle "cure" is ethanol. Of course, in the long run it won't work! But the politicians live in the short run-- the next election cycle. Beyond '08? It doesn't even exist.

Eventually somebody is going to have to come clean with the public and tell everyone what this dreamy "environmentally friendly" lifestyle really looks like! It wasn't Big Oil Companies that bought all those SUV's, and those 28,000 sq ft homes, now was it? Whoever gets caught with that hot potato can just kiss their life of public service goodbye.
7.27.2007 3:48pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
The real solution is obvious -- use nuclear power to convert CO2 to petroleum. Watch the eco-nuts' heads explode as they try to find an objection.
7.27.2007 3:56pm
Preferred Customer:

At the end of the day, the best, simplest and most elegant way to encourage the development of alternative energy, encourage fuel efficiency, and discourage reliance on foreign energy is to raise the tax on gasoline and diesel. A lot.

But this simple truth is, as Le Compte says above, too difficult for Congress (and perhaps the American people) to swallow. A massive increase in the gas tax makes the cost of environmentalism and energy security transparent, rather than burying it deep in federal subsidies for corn farmers and in Byzantine Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

Congress, at least, believes that Americans would not want to pay the price for environmentalism if it were made clear what that price is. The ag lobby and the automakers (for whom E85 compatibility is the cheapest way to look "green") are only too happy to play along.
7.27.2007 4:40pm
Phantom (mail):
Part of the reason our fixation on ethanol is unhealthy is that we're looking at the wrong kind of ethanol.

Ethanol made from corn as an EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) of approximately 1.3:1. That means that for every unit of energy put into producing ethanol from corn, you get about 1.3 units back. It's a net gain, but not a great one.

In contrast, the EROEI on sugar cane based ethanol is between 8.2:1 and 10.3:1 (depending on which source you're looking at). This means that production of ethanol from sugar cane is a hugely more efficient method of getting what you're looking for.

The increased efficiency should, theoretically, help drive the end user costs down by enabling the producer to increase profits on its investment.

Unfortunately, we don't get our ethanol from sugar cane. We get it from corn. Given the earlier discussion of the relative strength of the agricultural lobby, I doubt we'll see a shift from corn to sugar anytime soon.

--PtM
7.27.2007 5:06pm
Crust (mail):
What Phantom said. Corn ethanol is about the domestic agricultural lobby, not sound policy. But sugar ethanol may well make sense. The problem is we have absurdly high duties on importing it, e.g. from Brazil.
7.27.2007 5:13pm
bradley:
I'm not sure sugar cane is a magic bullet either. If you slash and burn the rain forest to grow sugar, have you really done the enviorment any favors?
7.27.2007 5:38pm
Phantom (mail):
Well, how about we engineer a hardier sugar cane that could be grown in the South and Midwest. This boosts costs a bit (to a lot depending on how much it costs). Then we can reduce subsidies for not farming to encourage the market to help farmers decide to grow sugar cane instead.

Just a random thought.

--PtM
7.27.2007 5:45pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
GWU law professor Arnold Reitze, one of the nation's leading experts on environmental law, has an essay in The Environmental Forum arguing that the political scramble to address energy security and environmental pollution from automobiles has led to an unsustainable and unwise fixation on ethanol. The renewable content mandate for gasoline is all about subsidizing corn farmers, not developing desirable alternative energy sources.

Tune in next week, when we learn that the business interests of defense contractors have influenced military spending.
7.27.2007 5:46pm
Preferred Customer:

Well, how about we engineer a hardier sugar cane that could be grown in the South and Midwest. This boosts costs a bit (to a lot depending on how much it costs). Then we can reduce subsidies for not farming to encourage the market to help farmers decide to grow sugar cane instead.

Just a random thought.

--PtM


Or, we eliminate subsidies on any one type of alternative, raise the tax on gasoline and diesel, and let the market figure out the most efficient replacement.

That, of course, is assuming we need the government to step in and "help" find a replacement for oil, either for environmental or security reasons.
7.27.2007 6:29pm
tsotha:
I think the unsuitability of corn ethanol is well understood by people who've been following the discussion. The question is whether or not there's a reasonable alternative.

Personally I don't see one except for nuclear power. But it will take a decade to build the plants we need, and there doesn't seem to be any great consensus to do so.
7.27.2007 7:37pm
Joshua:
<i>I'm not sure sugar cane is a magic bullet either. If you slash and burn the rain forest to grow sugar, have you really done the enviorment any favors?</i>

Not to mention that you'd be exchanging dependency on one mainly foreign-produced fuel for dependency on a different mainly foreign-produced fuel.
7.27.2007 8:04pm
Lee David (mail):
I have heard the solution to the fuel supply and demand problem is, tax it heavily to reduce demand, many times. What I have never heard from those putting this solution forward is just who gets the tax money. There is no doubt that higher prices would reduce demand but I am baffled as to why no one sees the glaring problem with this solution. If you hand this money to the government you are just dumping it into a black hole of ineffiency and everybody looses even more. It's like trying to solve your crack addiction by giving all your money to the heroine addicts. Anybody else see a problem here.
7.27.2007 8:24pm