Despite my well crafted, highly persuasive articles over the years (here, here and here, for example), corn ethanol and other biofuel mandates remain embedded in US law. As we have learned, once a government program is created, it becomes virtually impossible to eliminate, revise or even trim fat from it.
This year, it looked like this “rule of perpetuity” might finally change. The Trump-Pruitt Environmental Protection Agency proposed to use its “waiver authority” to reduce its 2018 biodiesel requirement by 15% (315 million gallons) and (possibly) lower the 2019 total down to the 1-billion-gallon minimum mandated by Congress. The proposed action would not affect corn or other ethanol production and blending requirements, despite growing problems with incorporating more ethanol into gasoline.
The biodiesel proposal reflects hard realities. Biodiesel costs over $1.30 more than regular diesel made from petroleum. Despite this far higher cost, it gets fewer miles per gallon than conventional biodiesel. Domestic US producers are unable to make enough biodiesel. In fact, their output is at least 250 million gallons below the mandated amount; the rest is imported, keeping America reliant on foreign suppliers.
Some analyses conclude that domestic biodiesel output is actually one billion gallons below what the mandate explicitly and in reality requires. So the USA is truly reliant on imports to meet the quota.
Since biodiesel is made from soybean, palm, canola, flax, sunflower and other plant oils, those crops must be grown on millions of acres of land, using enormous amounts of water, fertilizer, pesticides and energy. (Biodiesel can also be made from waste vegetable oil and animal fat, but those are in minuscule supply.)
The demand for biodiesel is down. Volkswagen’s fraudulent emissions tampering reduced demand for diesel-powered cars, and more people are driving electric and hybrid vehicles. Fraud is also rampant over Renewable Identification Numbers that must be issued for every gallon of biodiesel produced and sold.
Moreover, the primary justifications for biodiesel (and all biofuels) are missing in action. Fracking and other technologies have ended worries about imminent depletion of petroleum supplies, and a growing body of evidence shows that climate chaos due to human emissions of (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide exists almost entirely in computer models and data manipulation – not in planetary reality.
Finally, foreign production often generates more social and environmental problems than biodiesel. Oil palm development in Indonesia, for example, causes deforestation, soil erosion, water and air pollution, habitat and wildlife losses, and social unrest. Plantation owners, investors and employees do well; some become very wealthy. Others, especially traditional landowners, suffer from reduced incomes and land use rights, takings of cropland they relied on for survival, rising land prices and other conflicts.
In addition, like any carbon-based fuel, biodiesel emits carbon dioxide when it is burned. In fact, over the entire life cycle of growing and harvesting crops, turning them into fuel, transporting and using them in vehicles, ethanol and biodiesel emit as much CO2 as petroleum – and require infinitely more acreage.
However, anyone who…