DRIESSEN: Diverting food for fuel

Biofuel mandates produce widespread collateral damage

Aclever ActionAid U.K. video asks Londoners to sign a petition that claims “greedy people in developing nations are eating huge amounts of food that could easily be turned into biofuel to power our cars.” They refused.

The stunt underscores how biofuel programs turn food into fuel, convert cropland into man-made hydrocarbon deposits, disrupt food supplies and harm the environment.

Why can’t politicians, bureaucrats and environmentalists show the same compassion and common sense as Londoners? Why did President Obama tell undernourished Africans that they should refrain from using “dirty” fossil fuels and use their “bountiful” biofuel and other renewable energy resources instead? When will Congress pull the plug on the renewable-fuel standards?

Ethanol and other biofuels might have made some sense when Congress passed the 2005 Energy Policy Act, requiring that refiners and consumers purchase large quantities of ethanol and other biofuels. This is not 2005.

The hydraulic-fracturing revolution has obliterated the notion of “peak oil” popularized by the Club of Rome that we are rapidly exhausting the world’s petroleum. Meanwhile, Climategate and other scandals have demonstrated that the “science” behind climate-cataclysm claims is conjectural, manipulated and even fraudulent — and actual observations of temperatures, storms, droughts, sea levels and Arctic ice have refused to cooperate with computer models and disaster scenarios.

The United States is using 40 million acres of cropland (the size of Iowa plus New Jersey) and 45 percent of its corn crop to produce 14 billion gallons of ethanol annually. This amount of corn could feed some 570 million of the 1.2 billion people who still struggle to survive on $1.25 per day.

This heavily subsidized corn-centric agriculture is displacing wheat and other crops, dramatically increasing grain and food prices, and keeping land under cultivation that would otherwise be returned to wildlife habitat. It requires millions of pounds of insecticides, billions of pounds of fertilizer, vast amounts of petroleum-based energy, and billions of gallons of water — to produce a fuel that gets one-third less mileage per gallon than gasoline and achieves no overall reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Ethanol mandates have caused U.S. corn prices to rocket from $1.96 per average bushel in 2005 to as much as $7.50 in the autumn of 2012 and $6.68 last month. Corn growers and ethanol makers get rich. However, soaring corn prices mean beef, pork, poultry, egg and fish producers pay more for corn-based feed; grocery manufacturers pay more for corn, meat, fish and corn syrup; families pay more for everything on their dinner table; and starving Africans go hungry because aid agencies cannot buy as much food.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates the use of 15 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol and 21 billion gallons of cellulosic and other non-corn-based biofuels by 2022.

Equally irrational, the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft rule for 2013 requires that refiners purchase 14 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels. However, the fuel doesn’t exist. Just 4,900 gallons were produced in March, and zero the other months. So companies are forced to buy fantasy fuel, are fined if they do not, and are punished if they get conned into buying fraudulent “renewable-fuel credits.”

Ethanol collects water, which can result in engine stalls. It corrodes plastic, rubber and soft metal parts. Pre-2001 car engines may not be able to handle E15 fuel blends (15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline), adversely affecting engine, fuel pump and sensor durability.

Older cars, motorcycles and boats fueled with E15 could conk out in dangerously inopportune places or require costly engine repairs. Lawn mowers and other gasoline-powered equipment are equally susceptible.

On a global scale, the biofuels frenzy is diverting millions of acres of farmland from food crops, converting millions of acres of rainforest and other wildlife habitat into farmland, and using billions of gallons of water to produce corn, jatropha, palm oil and other crops for politically correct biofuels.

These biofuels could easily be replaced with newly abundant oil and gas. New seismic deepwater drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other technologies have opened huge new reserves of oil and natural gas — and enabled companies to extract far more from reservoirs once thought depleted.

That means we can now produce vastly more fossil-fuel energy — from far less land than is needed for biofuels, with far fewer effects on environmental quality, biodiversity and endangered species, and with none of the nasty effects on food supplies, food prices and world hunger that biofuel production entails.

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