The Great Ethanol Boondoggle

Clarice Feldman27 Dec, 2021 2 Min Read
The way we were, 1974.

During the Jimmy Carter administration when gas shortages and long lines at the pumps were high on voters long list of dissatisfactions, a bright idea took hold: mandate ethanol, the creation of gasoline from crops, most especially food stock like corn –about 40 percent of which is  now used to produce it.  It was convenient for politicians on the left. It was renewable. It was domestic and, not least of all, it was a political plus for those who supported it because Iowa was the first primary election in the country and it is corn country.

For decades afterward, even when there was no shortage of available fuel from conventional sources, Congress adored ethanol. Of course, there have always been problems created by the ethanol mandate. It raises the price of food—corn and meat in particular. It can damage car engines and fuel pumps. Two years ago, the Atlantic decried the lost promise of ethanol, once the darling of the Democrats:

 In the United States, the cultivation of corn for ethanol now requires a staggering 38 million acres of land—an area larger than the state of Illinois. By comparison, the total area of cropland used to produce grains and vegetables that humans eat is only about twice that acreage. In other words, the U.S. devotes enough land to corn-ethanol production to feed 150 million people.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act requires ever-increasing amounts of ethanol in gasoline sold in the United States. Small refineries are theoretically allowed to seek EPA exemptions from the mandates when the high compliance costs threaten their operations. Sixty-five small refineries have sought exemptions -- but the EPA has denied every one of them. If they shut down because operations are no longer profitable, East Coast fuel supplies in particular will be hard hit and prices more volatile.

It appears that while hawking renewables at the same time it substantially reduces conventional fossil fuel production, the Biden Administration has decided to increase the blend of ethanol required in gasoline and, in the process, raising gasoline prices even higher. A week ago, the EPA scaled back the corn-ethanol mandate for 2020 due to the widespread lockdowns and now proposes to raise the mandates for cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and advanced biofuels. Renewable diesel costs between fifty cents and one dollar more than petroleum diesel, an increase passed on to consumers.

Who benefits from the shift? It's not vehicle owners, because as fuel economy has improved, the quotas have become "increasingly unattainable" and the damage to older cars greater. Refiners are forced to buy credits from EPA to comply with the quotas or turn to more expensive biofuels, which are often imported.

Who's to blame? Not Iowa corn  farmers. It’s the oil giants and hedge funds. And the Iowa corn farmers who banked on their state’s early presidential caucuses to keep them in the ethanol drivers’ seat? Well, the writing  on the wall appeared in 2016 when Ted Cruz, who opposed the ethanol subsidies and mandates, won the Republican primary there.  And their doom was sealed when in 2020 Donald Trump won the presidential race in their home state.

Maybe the only way to kill this program is for oil-producing states to run their primaries before any state that produces the now-favored mandated substitutes for corn-based ethanol.

Clarice Feldman is a retired attorney living in Washington, D.C. During her legal career she represented the late labor leader Joseph ("Jock") Yablonski and the reform mine workers against Tony Boyle. She served as an attorney with the Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations, in which role she prosecuted those who aided the Nazis in World War II. She has written for The Weekly Standard and is a regular contributor to American Thinker.


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5 comments on “The Great Ethanol Boondoggle”

  1. The byproduct of ethanol production is distillers grain. It has the same nutrient value as the corn going into the ethanol plant. Distillers grain is livestock feed.
    "Although this percentage seems rather high, one-third of the weight and 100% of the nutritional content of corn entering an ethanol dry mill biorefinery is returned to the feed market as distillers grains. These distillers grains can be used to replace corn in the diets of cattle, swine, and poultry."

    Food grade corn is different than the #2 yellow corn used for ethanol and livestock feed. The seed planted to raise it is even different. Incidentally, the seed farmers use to plant their fields is specially grown to be used as seed. They don't use corn from last year's crop.

  2. I used to work for a company and had contact with people from another division. That division was gov't regulated as to profit retention and any excess profits were returned to customers! That division's pay and benefits was obscene compared to the others! Their operations were not as streamlined (understaffed/overworked) as ours. Their benefits were enviable! BUT, they played the gov't game to reduce their profits. Legally, they could not include better benefits for other divisions as a method of reducing profits - makes sense in a highly regulated area I guess! All that said, they had a saying about expenses and projects - TSLDI !! If you've never seen that before it means "That's STUPID, let's DO IT"! Ethanol is STUPID! I'm sure the environmental cost of ethanol is a great negative. The fuel economy/cost is a negative! The damage to older vehicles and small engines is a DEFINITE negative (unless you hate old cars and sell weedeaters)! I would love to see a new POLITICAL PARTY or Movement - Common Sense!!! Yes, good old COMMON SENSE should lead the way rather than TSLDI!

  3. My vehicles do not want more than 10% ethanol. Some local shell stations are selling ethanol-free gas at about $1.00 more per gallon. That's ok for my lawn equipment but I'd hate to add another dollar to the gas for my car. Ethanol is a power-sapping, economy-reducing additive anyway but the farmers' lobby loves it.

  4. I live in Southern Ontario, most farmers here grow corn for ethanol and soy beans for bio diesel. The exceptions are the quickly increasing number of Chinese Farms which are heavily manned and look like factories, they grow food, for the Chinese market. They used to buy our farm produce, now they buy our farms.

  5. Yes, ethanol is even more insane than wind and solar and that's not easy. Planting corn, fertilizing, spraying, cultivating, irrigating, harvesting, transporting, and processing it consumes more diesel fuel, natural gas and electricity than the ethanol yields as a transportation fuel. Hydrocarbons, are used to produce carbohydrates, carbohydrates are NOT used to make hydrocarbons. How we were collectively dumb enough not to understand that is incomprehensible. Greenies now oppose ethanol, but it has such a strong political backing it's like all government programs: They last forever, no matter how dumb and wasteful IMHO.

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