LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Subsidized biofuels can’t compete

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With biodiesel tax credits set to expire this year, it’s logical that Steven Levy would defend his industry and its subsidies (“Biofuels aid environment, economy,” Letters, Nov. 29). But as he says, we should focus on facts.

I’m hardly a “climate-change denier.” I’ve studied climate, geological and human history, and have a rock specimen that bears the deep scratches made by the last mile-thick glacier that once covered the Wisconsin town where I grew up. However, there is still no convincing empirical evidence that people are causing dangerous global warming or that human “greenhouse gas” emissions have replaced the many powerful natural forces that caused numerous glacial, interglacial, warm and cold periods over the centuries.

Recycling cooking oils and other wastes is an excellent idea — if doing so doesn’t require major, long-term subsidies. But these raw materials are insufficient to meet expanding mandates or power fleets of Navy ships and aircraft, as some envision. Such quantities require enormous, unsustainable amounts of land, water, fertilizer, insecticides and energy. Indeed, corn-based ethanol is already overusing these raw materials, raising food prices and taking millions of acres away from food crops and wildlife.

Biofuels made some national security sense when U.S. petroleum production was declining. But today, production is climbing steadily, thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on private lands. Instead of extending biofuel subsidies, we should open more state and public lands to drilling. This would generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

If they do occur, any consumer savings associated with biodiesel are more than offset by taxpayer subsidies. Moreover, even with subsidies, biodiesel costs more to produce than petroleum diesel, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Information Administration. Biodiesel contains 5 percent to 10 percent less energy per gallon than petroleum diesel, growing soybeans for biodiesel does not reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and this year’s 280 million gallons of biodiesel above the statutory mandate will add up to $381 million to consumer transportation bills.

Finally, “carbon pollution” is a clever misnomer. It’s neither carbon (soot) nor pollution. It’s carbon dioxide, the plant-fertilizing gas (0.04 percent of the atmosphere) that is essential for all life on Earth. More carbon dioxide means forests, grasslands and crops grow faster, better and with less water. Curtailing or eliminating biofuel mandates and subsidies is something Republicans, Democrats and independents alike should be able to agree on.

Senior policy analyst
Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow

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