- - Monday, June 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s easy to tell the difference between problem-solvers and ideologues. The problem-solvers learn the lessons that reality teaches and adjust to them — the ideologues and true believers keep pushing their errors, only harder.

Washington is crowded with ideologues and true believers, and among the most zealous are the environmentalists, determined to prove their anti-fossil-fuel ideology correct, results and reality be damned. Renewable fuels have failed to catch fire, so to speak, in the marketplace, but through the force of law both fuel and nonsense continue to flow. Congress should end renewable fuel mandates and let consumers decide whether buying the “green” stuff is good sense or nonsense.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its long-overdue targets for the various biofuels that must be added to American gasoline. “This proposal marks an important step forward in making sure the Renewable Fuel Standard program delivers on the congressional intent to increase biofuel use, lower greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security,” says Janet McCabe, an assistant administrator of the EPA’s well-named Office of Air. “We believe these proposed volume requirements will provide a strong incentive for continued investment and growth in biofuels.”

Under the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, the proposed amounts of biofuels, primarily ethanol wrung out of corn and other plants, keeps rising year after year. For 2015, the proposed target volume for all biofuels is set at 16.3 billion gallons, and rises to 17.4 billion gallons in 2016. The new figures, which refineries must take into account in making production plans, had been scheduled for release last November, but was delayed by disputes with the oil and renewable fuel industry over which levels are reasonable. Only a court-ordered deadline of June 1 pried the figures from the EPA. Final volume requirements are due by Nov. 30 this year.

With the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Congress mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency implement renewable fuel rules that require refiners to dilute their petroleum products with “green” alternatives. That seemed like a reasonable idea when the United States was heavily dependent on imported oil and the global-warming hysteria was in full heat. Ten years on, the consequences of top-down energy policy from Washington have become embarrassingly evident.

Most biofuel is derived from corn. To meet the EPA’s mandates, vast acreages of the American breadbasket have been devoted to producing corn destined for refineries rather than livestock feed and family dinner tables. Higher prices at the supermarket have resulted, and food price spikes have rippled to other countries as well. Corn for cars means less supply for the hungry. The new EPA biofuels mandates further include a target volume of “cellulosic ethanol” for 2014. Derived from grass, wood chips and other plant debris, the stuff is so difficult to manufacture in sufficient quantities that the EPA bizarrely matched the target retroactively to the actual amount produced. Hindsight can be valuable.

The biofuels mandate was meant to provide an alternative to “dirty” oil, which the environmentalists said would soon be used up. Alternative fuels would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saving the planet from global warming. However, advanced drilling techniques have rendered oil and natural gas more abundant than ever, and the globe stubbornly refuses to warm as predicted.

The world has changed since 2005, when Congress bought the hype over green gas. Energy policy at the mercy of ideology invariably gives way to real life and the free market. So why not now? The free market will determine what’s best to move America.

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