Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Politically [un]Popular Ethanol

Price controls today are not popular politically, probably because so many individuals remember the price controls of the 1970's. I was only born in 74, but I still have heard many stories, and none of those stories lamented the demise of gasoline price controls. Hopefully, given all we have recently learned about ethanol (see below), having the government choose "winners" in the energy debate will now become politically unpopular.

Congress stipulated that ethanol be cleaner than gasoline and handed the job of measuring emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has found itself under ferocious pressure. The ethanol industry wants its product shown in the best possible light. Environmentalists want an honest accounting, which the public deserves but which they do not think an industry-friendly Bush administration is capable of.
The most contentious question involves the emissions caused by direct and indirect changes in land use associated with growing biofuels. Until late last year, corn ethanol had been seen as at least carbon neutral ...But then came a spate of new studies arguing that earlier calculations had failed to account for the emissions caused when land is cleared and tilled, releasing large quantities of stored carbon.

from Honesty About Ethanol, NY Times editorial, today.

we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products.

from Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change, Science magazine, Feb 08.

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