EDITORIAL: EPA’s fantasy fuel

Rationality in Washington is scarcer than green gas

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Wishful thinking is overflowing at the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency just got its knuckles rapped in court for forcing oil refineries to add an unreasonably high volume of biofuels to their products last year. The EPA’s response to judicial chastisement: Demand even more for 2013. Cranking out rules that don’t make sense protects nothing but the employment environment for Washington bureaucrats.

The problem began in 2007, when Congress decreed oil companies must start producing hundreds of millions of gallons of a mythical product known as cellulosic biofuel. The mandate forced big oil to spend millions subsidizing the creation of this “advanced” fuel, which is distilled from switchgrass and agricultural waste. The substance would be a competitor to their own product — if it actually existed outside of a laboratory.

The feds have tried to boost biofuel production by sinking more than $1.5 billion into startup outfits, but their crony-capitalist efforts thus far have only fueled bankruptcy, as nobody can figure out how to make the stuff economically. Nonetheless, refineries that failed to mix the chimerical substance into their products at the levels set by the EPA were fined $6.8 million in 2011.

Late last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the regulatory agency deliberately aimed high in setting targets for 2012. The EPA had borrowed an estimate from the U.S. Energy Information Agency for commercial production of cellulosic biofuels in 2012 — 6.9 million gallons — slapped on an extra 25 percent and came up with a projection of 8.65 million gallons. The actual amount produced: zero.

Ignoring the court, the EPA on Thursday released its mandate for biofuels in 2013: 14 million gallons.

The plaintiff in the case, the American Petroleum Institute, expressed satisfaction that the EPA got caught cooking its numbers. “The court recognized the absurdity of fining companies for failing to use a non-existent biofuel,” said API Downstream Group director Bob Greco. “But EPA wants to nearly double the mandate for the fuel in 2013. … EPA needs a serious reality check.”

Congress shares blame for the agency’s infatuation with fantasy fuel. Overcome with “global warming” hysteria a few years before the release of the Climategate emails, lawmakers on Capitol Hill enacted the renewable-fuel standard program that mandated the sale of an astronomical half-billion gallons of the quixotic combustible liquid annually by 2012. Lawmakers thought that by mixing biofuels into gasoline, the nation’s vehicles would emit less carbon dioxide, resulting in a change of the weather that would rescue the entire planet from impending cataclysm.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Senior Circuit Judge Steven F. Williams granted the EPA some strategic face-saving: “Certainly EPA must provide a reasoned explanation for its actions, but rationality does not always imply a high degree of quantitative specificity.” Given the difference between 8.65 million gallons of biofuels the EPA required and zero gallons actually produced, the court could have contended that rationality does not always imply a sense of reality. Americans can draw their own verdict: Rationality is running on empty in Washington.

The Washington Times

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