Vilsack: I can’t actually say for sure that ethanol is economical or environmental, but we’re doing it anyway

posted at 7:21 pm on November 11, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Jazz and I have been covering what I like to call the Saga of Stupid that is the Renewable Fuel Standard and the definitely necessary, merciful push to abolish it on Capitol Hill, seeing as how the Standard is basically just another form of niche special treatment for so-called “green” energy that only succeeds in regressively jacking up food and gasoline prices and isn’t actually green.

The Associated Press has been working on a big investigation into just how not-green corn ethanol, the main beneficiary of the RFS, really is; I gather that their report has been published prematurely and pulled a couple of times but is finally scheduled for real-deal publication on Tuesday, but the AP apparently is not going to be particularly flattering for the Obama administration or their reckless, unaffordable infatuation with Renewable Fuel Standard and other subsidies — and the ethanol lobby was not pleased when they caught wind of the incoming report. Via the National Journal:

The story wasn’t out for long, but it has caused a firestorm of backlash from biofuels makers and corn producers upset at how they are portrayed. “There’s probably more truth in this week’s National Enquirer than there is in the AP story,” said the Renewable Fuels Association’s Geoff Cooper on a Monday press call. …

“Cropland is not expanding in the United States—certainly not expanding because of the RFS,” Cooper said, referring to the federal renewable-fuel standard that mandates an increasing amount of biofuels each year to be blended with the nation’s gasoline supply. Cooper insisted that corn-fueled destruction of wetlands “just isn’t happening.”

The American Coalition for Ethanol chimed in as well. “At best, the AP article is lazy journalism, but at worst, it appears purposefully designed to damage the ethanol industry,” ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings said in a release. “There was an incredibly reckless disregard for the truth in the handiwork of this hit-piece.”

“Hit piece”? …Mm hmm. I can hardly stress enough just how big a deal this is for Big Ethanol; a rumor that spread like wildfire last month that the EPA is considering partially rolling back the 2014 ethanol blending requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard was bad enough, and they can hardly handle the bad press as the push for ending/downsizing the RFS gains steam in Congress.

I’ll write more about the AP investigation when it’s released, but The Hill managed to grab a snippet that is sure to fill your hearts with confidence in the Obama administration and their many regulations:

Among the morsels in AP’s probe: Pro-ethanol Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack doesn’t try to make the case that the fuel helps battle climate change.

“I don’t know whether I can make the environmental argument, or the economic argument,” Vilsack tells AP. “To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”

A separate Agriculture Department official told AP he’s surprised at how much fragile land has been turned into cornfields – and then got an email ordering him to stop talking.

“[T]he ethanol era has proved far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today,” AP reports.

He can’t actually make an environmental or economic argument — just an “opportunity argument”? …That literally makes no sense.


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Whiskey subsidies I could understand but to burn? No!

viking01 on November 11, 2013 at 7:25 PM

Liberals only need good feelings, not facts, & good intentions, not results.

itsnotaboutme on November 11, 2013 at 7:25 PM

A separate Agriculture Department official told AP he’s surprised at how much fragile land has been turned into cornfields – and then got an email ordering him to stop talking.

And he is next in line for a full IRS audit too.

Johnnyreb on November 11, 2013 at 7:26 PM

Among the morsels in AP’s probe: Pro-ethanol Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack doesn’t try to make the case that the fuel helps battle climate change.

It doesn’t. For the same heat release, ethanol produces about the same amount of CO2 as gasoline. Since growing corn and processing it into ethanol consumes about 0.8 times the energy released by burning the ethanol, using ethanol results in 80% MORE CO2 emissions than simply burning gasoline.

Of course, people might still want to grow corn for food, either for humans or livestock. Making ethanol from corn also destroys its food value.

Our energy policy needs to be simple: Eat what you can, burn what you can’t eat!

Steve Z on November 11, 2013 at 7:33 PM

shouldn’t his name be Tom Ballsack?

Tom Servo on November 11, 2013 at 7:34 PM

stupid.
they force cafe mileage standards on manufacturers (rising each year) and force an additive that reduces mileage at same time. People in cold climates also deal with a slightly longer warm up time, and when you need to run vehicle for 40 minutes to clear windows you NEED the heat.
like a bastardized case of isometrics thats strangling US.

dmacleo on November 11, 2013 at 7:35 PM

OK, Nutsack — make your opportunity argument. I dare you.

Jaibones on November 11, 2013 at 7:40 PM

People in cold climates also deal with a slightly longer warm up time, and when you need to run vehicle for 40 minutes to clear windows you NEED the heat.
like a bastardized case of isometrics thats strangling US.

dmacleo on November 11, 2013 at 7:35 PM

And that destroys any benefits for the Hybrid crowd when you get up North a bit also. Takes 20 minutes for the gasoline engine to run to warm up the car from about late October through March, destroying any long term gas mileage advantage for the Hybrid. They really only work out long term in the South.

Johnnyreb on November 11, 2013 at 7:40 PM

Vilsack is a fool…

OmahaConservative on November 11, 2013 at 7:48 PM

People in cold climates also deal with a slightly longer warm up time, and when you need to run vehicle for 40 minutes to clear windows you NEED the heat.
like a bastardized case of isometrics thats strangling US.

dmacleo on November 11, 2013 at 7:35 PM

And that destroys any benefits for the Hybrid crowd when you get up North a bit also. Takes 20 minutes for the gasoline engine to run to warm up the car from about late October through March, destroying any long term gas mileage advantage for the Hybrid. They really only work out long term in the South.

Johnnyreb on November 11, 2013 at 7:40 PM

As someone who lives in a cold climate at least six months out of the year, and also is from a state heavy with corn growing, I can attest to the fact that it’s even worse than you’ve been led to believe. The more ethanol is in your flex-fuel vehicle, the worse your gas mileage. And the impact is direct and noticeable.

About four years ago, I was working at a gas station that got a big subsidy to install blender pumps capable of site blending fuel to E10, E20, E30, or E85 specifications. Each of those numbers is the approximate percentage of ethanol in the “gasohol” blend. Just out of curiosity, I nosed around a little bit asking a few of the customers with flex-fuel vehicles what they used for gassing up and why. Not a one of them used E85, and few of them used E30. Mostly it was E20 or E10, and any engine should be able to take E10 (in theory; problems abound, but FedGov doesn’t really talk about them). One person in particular, who commuted in to town from about 30 miles away, said something very telling: “I tried E85 for about a month, but I had to gas up six times a month instead of 4. It just wasn’t worth whatever I saved.” And this guy was a totally hippie-dippie type.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 7:49 PM

In the 70′s it served a purpose to cut smog. Technology has long since passed it up. It is crony capitalism at its finest and has been for decades. It has always taken a gallon of petroleum to make a gallon of ethanol.

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 7:51 PM

When conservatives join with high-information liberals and consumer advocates to argue side-by-side and still don’t budge the issue an inch, you know the one-party state of Incumbistan has the fix in.

HitNRun on November 11, 2013 at 7:54 PM

In the 70′s it served a purpose to cut smog. Technology has long since passed it up. It is crony capitalism at its finest and has been for decades. It has always taken a gallon of petroleum to make a gallon of ethanol.

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 7:51 PM

In the 70′s, corn subsidies didn’t exist on the federal level. They came into being in the 1980′s when it looked like the Dem congress might lose its hold in the midwest under Ronald Ray-gun.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 7:55 PM

He can’t actually make an environmental or economic argument — just an “opportunity argument”? …That literally makes no sense.

Just like health care. They couldn’t make an economic argument or a health care argument. But they did know that “now’s the time to do it”.

Flange on November 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Say, if its a renewable fuel, then why do we have to keep on paying for it?

ajacksonian on November 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM

BTU’s per gallon

76,000 Ethanol
115 – 125,000 Gasoline
138,000 #2 (diesel)

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 8:01 PM

Say, if its a renewable fuel, then why do we have to keep on paying for it?

ajacksonian on November 11, 2013 at 8:00 PM

It is a renewable fuel. It’s just demand that has to be artificially stimulated.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 8:01 PM

Just wait, QOTD will be about the elephant in the room again…

OmahaConservative on November 11, 2013 at 8:03 PM

In the 70′s, corn subsidies didn’t exist on the federal level. They came into being in the 1980′s when it looked like the Dem congress might lose its hold in the midwest under Ronald Ray-gun.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 7:55 PM

I didn’t say it was subsidized. It was put in to handle pollution. I was installing un-leaded tanks then and ethanol came along shortly after. Some fiberglass tanks melted because they had not been produced to handle alcohol. Fortunately all of mine were steel.

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 8:05 PM

He can’t actually make an environmental or economic argument — just an “opportunity argument”? …That literally makes no sense.

But it does make sense…if you’re trying to fill the pockets of cronies who are heavily invested and raking in big cash from the ethanol industry and subsidies for growing corn to feed it. This is the ‘opportunity’ of which he sold boldly and blatantly refers.

thatsafactjack on November 11, 2013 at 8:07 PM

It is a renewable fuel. It’s just demand that has to be artificially stimulated.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 8:01 PM

I remember driving through Kansas in the late ’80s.

And the artificial prices.

And the crappy mileage… my car had been getting 35mpg before I had to fill up on a blend.

It dropped to just a bit over 27mpg on the blend.

There ain’t nothing artificial about that: it is highway robbery.

ajacksonian on November 11, 2013 at 8:13 PM

He can’t actually make an environmental or economic argument — just an “opportunity argument”? …That literally makes no sense.

I think he was referring to his political career.

paul1149 on November 11, 2013 at 8:14 PM

I despise this administration.

locomotivebreath1901 on November 11, 2013 at 8:17 PM

“Cropland is not expanding in the United States—certainly not expanding because of the RFS,”

Which means more food that can be used to feed the hungry is being wasted in gasoline tanks.

RoadRunner on November 11, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Gov. Tom Nutsack? He’s still around?

RandallinHerndon on November 11, 2013 at 8:21 PM

Which means more food that can be used to feed the hungry is being wasted in gasoline tanks.

RoadRunner on November 11, 2013 at 8:20 PM

Yup!

Can’t find a better way to deprive people in poor countries of cheap food than burning it as fuel at home.

Mexico has been screwed over royally by NAFTA: it lured men and boys from rural farms, started up the cartels, saw companies flow to Mexico and then on to China, put fuel on the fire of the cartels as people had to find works somewhere and no one was working the low paying jobs in the fields and had expectations of a higher living standard, and then for the families left behind, the US started pulling more corn into the RFS, thus spiking the price of corn. Corn tortilla prices skyrocketed overnight in Mexico thanks to RFS.

Why does our government hate poor people at home and across the world?

ajacksonian on November 11, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Price of gas dropping dramatically .. i was thinking it was an attempt to deflect attention from the dropping disposable income .. .especially because of ACA .. .. but now I’m thinking they must have an upcoming increase in the ethanol percentage required .. .. hmm. My truck with 230,000 on it will not be happy ..

countmein on November 11, 2013 at 8:33 PM

And that destroys any benefits for the Hybrid crowd when you get up North a bit also. Takes 20 minutes for the gasoline engine to run to warm up the car from about late October through March, destroying any long term gas mileage advantage for the Hybrid. They really only work out long term in the South.

Johnnyreb on November 11, 2013 at 7:40 PM

I would expect so, don’t have one so I have no experience but, here in Maine, I have experience with -20F and colder nights and starting the cars an hour early.
it seems to me (for the warmup times) that you start noticing it (E10 here) around 35 Deg or so. been so long since I had place to get non-e fuel its hard to say for sure but when I had options it seemed (observation no scientific methods) that temp was the noticeable point.
mileage of course was noticed immediately.

dmacleo on November 11, 2013 at 8:36 PM

And this is why these people shouldn’t be allowed to meddle in the fking market.

Murphy9 on November 11, 2013 at 8:40 PM

you what would suck?
if the E growers groups forced companies to start mixing in with heating oil.
I would watch for that as people start to question the gas mixes.
I run #2 in outside insulated tank (~138K btu) with approx 60 gallons pure K1 (135K btu or so) mixed in on first fill to prevent gelling.
forcing an E mix in there would kill heating bill.

dmacleo on November 11, 2013 at 8:41 PM

Corn tortilla prices skyrocketed overnight in Mexico thanks to RFS.

Why does our government hate poor people at home and across the world?

ajacksonian on November 11, 2013 at 8:24 PM

The major oil co. I was a jobber for took this exact moral position. It was wrong to take food away from poor people to burn up.

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 8:42 PM

Liberals only need good feelings, not facts, & good intentions, not results.

itsnotaboutme on November 11, 2013 at 7:25 PM

“flat-earthers” and “science-deniers” all…

dominigan on November 11, 2013 at 8:48 PM

I didn’t say it was subsidized. It was put in to handle pollution. I was installing un-leaded tanks then and ethanol came along shortly after. Some fiberglass tanks melted because they had not been produced to handle alcohol. Fortunately all of mine were steel.

CW20 on November 11, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Sorry if that came across as a correction. It was not. More of a clarification. I just happen to be of the firm belief that no one and nothing can screw shit up like FedGov does.

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 8:50 PM

“To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”

Translation: “Hey! We got friends to pay off! And where the hell do you think our 2014 campaign contributions are coming from?

GarandFan on November 11, 2013 at 8:56 PM

Burning food for energy. What could possibly go wrong?

Cicero43 on November 11, 2013 at 8:57 PM

“To me, it’s an opportunity argument.”

Translation: “Hey! We got friends to pay off! And where the hell do you think our 2014 campaign contributions are coming from?

GarandFan on November 11, 2013 at 8:56 PM

Or another possible and equally valid translation:

“We have the opportunity to do it, so we should. Cost/benefits be damned!”

gryphon202 on November 11, 2013 at 9:01 PM

Liberals only need good feelings, not facts, & good intentions, not results.

itsnotaboutme on November 11, 2013 at 7:25 PM

.
“flat-earthers” and “science-deniers” all…

dominigan on November 11, 2013 at 8:48 PM

.
Only the “useful idiot” followers, dom’.

The real leaders of all of this know damn well well it’s about sabotaging the U.S.

listens2glenn on November 11, 2013 at 9:04 PM

It is an opportunity for big donors to get their payback which leads to more donations, which leads to more …..bribes, graft, and corruption.

DAT60A3 on November 11, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Just wait, QOTD will be about the elephant in the room again…

OmahaConservative on November 11, 2013 at 8:03 PM

…then…I’m shootings raccoons tonight!…it’s getting cold…and they’re hungry!

KOOLAID2 on November 11, 2013 at 10:58 PM

Um, so the ‘settled scince’ is: no data supports that ethanol is economical or environmental.

Gotcha. We can use that against the enviro-terrorist?

I’m gonna love this!

socalcon on November 11, 2013 at 11:46 PM

The standard refining process turns three barrels of crude oil into two barrels of gasoline and one barrel of distillate fuels (diesel, heating oil, or jet fuel). This oversimplifies, but the ratio is the thing and the ratio is fixed for each refinery without tremendously expensive modifications.

The addition of an ethanol mandate adds to the supply of gasoline, creating a surplus of gasoline compared to distillate fuels. This surplus drives down the price of gasoline to, or often below, the cost of the crude oil that goes into making it. That means the only justification for turning crude into fuel is the higher profit that derives from the sale of distillate fuels.

The ethanol mandates have pushed the gasoline futures markets into backwardation for these last several years; that means the current or spot price is higher than the futures price three or six months from now. This discourages hedging, since selling for future delivery locks in a guaranteed loss. Because hedging is unprofitable, refiners and terminal operators and in fact every party in the supply chain must try to get rid of gasoline as quickly as possible — hopefully breaking even but at least avoiding a significant loss on each gallon sold.

Currently, refineries are operating at a high level of utilization, trying to produce enough diesel and heating oil to get through the Northern Hemisphere winter. Exports are up for both gasoline and distillates, because of strong demand for distillates and low prices for gasoline made from abundant (and relatively cheap) US and Canadian crude oil.

Ending the ethanol mandate would reduce the gasoline surplus, allowing a normal rate of return to refiners; turning the futures market from backwardation to contango; and allowing for a normal stockpiling of both gasoline and distillates. Gasoline prices would naturally rise relative to the prices for distillate fuels, which is a good thing in my opinion, since I do not believe it makes sense for diesel to cost $0.50-1.00/gallon more than regular unleaded gasoline for even a few months of the year.

J Baustian on November 12, 2013 at 6:12 AM

What makes no sense is putting F’ING ALCOHOL IN MY DAMN ENGINE.

NO!
NO!
NO!

TX-96 on November 12, 2013 at 6:14 AM

The “opportunity argument” makes sense in Washington. It’s the opportunity to milk a few $million in campaign contributions from the big farmers and distillers.

Nomas on November 12, 2013 at 6:31 AM

It’s a kick back opportunity. To whom much is given, much is expected back from in the form of donors to the lib cause. Always follow the money.

Kissmygrits on November 12, 2013 at 8:22 AM

On a local note here in NW MT, the gas prices have dropped to 2.99 and diesel is at 3.78.

Kissmygrits on November 12, 2013 at 8:26 AM

He can’t actually make an environmental or economic argument — just an “opportunity argument”? …That literally makes no sense.

This is the argument for EVERY liberal policy; there are no results required, just opportunity for results. Opportunity to feel good about a touchy-feely save Mother Earth notion, really? Because it looks like dear Mother Earth is taking a hit here. Maybe the opportunity he’s talking about is for positive economic or environmental in the future, but who cares results, really, when you get to feel good now? These are only guesses as to what he’s talking about, because like Erika said, he literally makes no sense.

The philosophy of Liberal big spenders and taxers is that if something is “good” then we can tax, borrow, print money to do it. Ahem…just because something feels good, doesn’t mean that it’s productive, efficient, or at all justifiable.

Let’s all be realistic about the greater goal here: destroy domestic energy, and jobs along with it, so we can grow government dependence and thus grow government power. Anybody who still thinks that the RFS is about saving the planet is F’n high.

Jackalope on November 12, 2013 at 12:33 PM

J Baustian on November 12, 2013 at 6:12 AM

Do you have any references for this? Sounds like it’s spot on, but I’d like to read-up on some of the claims.

Jackalope on November 12, 2013 at 12:35 PM