“Everybody uses the road and if some pay and some don’t then that’s an unfair situation that’s got to be resolved,” said Jim Whitty, manager of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Office of Innovative Partnerships and Alternative Funding.
Ah, yes. As with any number of current governmental activities, the rationale for per-mile taxation will be fairness.
It’s not often publicly remarked upon, but the emphasis on biofuel capacity in the United States has a bit of an international political component to it. American farms exported well over 100,000 metric tons of corn and oilseed in 2010. Some major portion of that production was sent to oil-rich areas which are short on food. The E85 boondoggle can be viewed as a simple declaration to those nations: we can burn your food in our cars, but you can’t eat your oil.
America’s pretty good at producing another item besides food, however, and if early research is any indication, it could be used to run a significant portion of the nation’s car and truck fleet.
A brief piece in the Wall Street Journal’s “Dealbook” discussed the potential of natural gas powered vehicles, largely as a way to stop falling prices for natural gas.
One hope for many natural gas producers reeling from collapsing prices is wider adoption of natural-gas-powered cars.
The biggest hurdle so far: lack of infrastructure to refuel them.
But Steven Mueller, CEO of Southwestern Energy, says if 10% of passenger cars were powered by natural gas, gasoline prices would fall by $1.60/gallon and gas producers would get 4 billion cubic feet/day in demand.
One of the biggest complaints about biofuel is that food is turned into fuel while people go hungry. Price hikes for staples have been blamed on ethanol production, especially subsidized ethanol production. Ethanol is usually made from sugarcane, corn, and beets. Grapes find their way into fuel tanks instead of wine glasses, rice is often driven instead of eaten. Woodscraps and agricultural residue would be less of a moral and financial hazard if converted into fuel. However, it proved resistant against yeasts. Today, Toyota took reporters to a lab in Aichi and showed off a yeast that wood-scraps, dead leaves, straw etc find highly irresistible. Read More >
As a relatively pragmatic person who generally chooses the imperfect-yet-achievable path rather than agonizing over the perfect-but-unattainable goal, this chart [from a fascinating Boston Consulting report, in PDF here] frustrates me. I understand why Americans choose hybrid-electric cars as their most favored “green car” technology, but from their it gets fairly crazy. EVs are fantastic on paper, but in the real world they’re still far too expensive, their batteries degrade, they have limited range, oh and did I mention that they’re freaking expensive? Biofuels, America’s third-favorite “green” transportation technology can be fantastic in certain limited applications, but the ongoing ethanol boondoggle proves that it will never be a true “gasoline alternative.” Finally, at the bottom of the list, Americans grudgingly accept only relatively slight interest in the two most promising short-term technologies: diesel and CNG. Neither of these choices is radically more expensive than, say, a hybrid drivetrain and both are considerably less expensive and compromised than EVs at this point. So why are we so dismissive of them?
Cracks continued to in the ethanol industry’s once-impregnable political vanguard, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Senate has voted to roll back the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) as well as import tariffs on foreign-produced ethanol. This rollback of multi-billion-dollar ethanol credits failed earlier in the week, when the Detroit News reports automakers came out in opposition of a bill that would have required that 95% of all cars built in the US be capable of running 85% ethanol by 2017. The Senate did fail to pass a repeal of a government ethanol blending mandate that underpins the VEETC, however, and funding is moving forward for ethanol blending pumps. Still, the Senate’s repeal of VEETC alone means taxpayers could save over $5b per year on subsidies, and as one expert puts it
“Looks like we’re going to be relying on the biofuels mandates to make sure blenders use biofuels, rather than bribing them to use it with $6 billion,” [Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University] said.
In fact, Babcock thinks killing the subsidy could help ethanol because it would come out from the stigma of being a subsidized industry. And removing the subsidy may strengthen support for the mandate, and the tariff on imports.
Reuters reports that White House has approved a label for E15 ethanol blends, which warn motorists not to use the higher blend if their vehicle was built before the 2007 model-year. What Reuters won’t show you is the final label design that was approved… was it the EPA’s proposed design (above), or one of the ethanol lobby’s proposed alternatives (see gallery below). Clearly there’s a bit of a difference between the two, and the EPA was under quite a bit of pressure to not go with the orange-and-red “CAUTION!” version. In documentation from hearings on the E15 labeling issue [PDF], you can read executives and lobbyists expounding at length about the fact that ethanol is good for America, and that labeling shouldn’t discourage the use of E15. Which it doesn’t…. in 2007 and later vehicles. And if you check the EPA’s docket on the issue, you’ll find plenty of good reasons for preventing “misfueling”. Luckily few gas station owners are likely to invest in E15 pumps anyway, so you may never actually see this label in the wild.
Over the course of TTAC’s coverage of US ethanol subsidies, I’ve often wondered why nobody made a political issue out of slaying an ever-growing waste of tax dollars ($6b this year on the “blender’s credit” alone). And with the political rhetoric about America’s debt prices rising, I’ve been wondering with more and more regularity when someone will finally take the ethanol fight to the American people, who are already voting against ethanol with their pocketbooks. But just last December, Al Gore explained why not even he, an environmentalist standard-bearer, could oppose the corn juice he knew was bad policy, saying
It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first generation ethanol. First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small… One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.
The Iowa primary is a key early contest in the Presidential election, and because Iowans grow and refine a huge amount of corn ethanol, campaigning against ethanol subsidies in Iowa is a non-starter. At least that’s what the conventional wisdom was before today, when, with nearly nine months to go before the primary, the impossible just happened. Read More >