Gov. Bob McDonnell joined six other governors earlier this week in asking President Obama to waive the ethanol quotes mandated by the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). His letter to the Environmental Protection Agency earlier in the month follows a similar plea from Virginia senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb earlier this month.
The RFS dictates that all U.S. transportation fuel must contain ethanol, effectively diverting more than 40 percent of U.S.-grown corn to fuel. Drought has devastated U.S corn production and, aggravated by the ethanol mandate, has driven up corn prices. As a basic feedstock for animals, higher corn prices will translate into higher prices for livestock and poultry. The Virginia Poultry Federation lost no time in praising the governor for his letter.
The Renewable Fuels Standard is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted. Talk about a technology that could not survive without government life support! This boondoggle makes the Solyndra fiasco look penny-ante by comparison.
McDonnell, Webb and Warner should follow up their calls for a waiver by working to eliminate the mandate permanently.
Ethanol is a blight and a bane to our economy. First, the diversion of corn from food feedstock to gasoline drives up the cost of food. Second, now that Congress has eliminated a 45 cent-per-gallon production subsidy, the mandate has pushed up the cost of gasoline as well. Third, the putative environmental benefits (reduced greenhouse gases) disappear when the full life-cycle costs of ethanol production are taken into account. And fourth, ethanol displaces only five to six percent of imported petroleum at a time when, thanks to the fracking revolution, production of domestic oil and gas are booming.
There’s another, less commonly cited reason to hate ethanol. Ethanol damages small internal combustion engines and, if you don’t run an engine regularly, ethanol prevents it from starting. I found that out the hard way when I had to take my lawn mower into the repair shop last year. (See what small-engine mechanic Kenneth Francis of Spotsylvania says about it on YouTube. Yuck!) Anyone who owns a lawn mower, generator or a motor boat has ample reason to hate the wretched, stinking fuel that serves no good but to enrich corporate rent seekers.
In addition to seeking the waiver, McDonnell ought to yank Virginia out of Governor’s Ethanol Coalition and work to scrap any and all state programs that favor the fuel by means of subsidies or tax breaks, such as the Biofuels Production Grant.
A rational energy policy would let all energy sources compete on a level playing field. We should eliminate all federal and state subsidies, tax breaks, loan guarantees and mandates for everything from fossil fuels to biofuels, from nuclear to solar and wind. Impose a carbon tax on fossil fuels to offset the costs arising from pollution. Then let the best energy source win!