A Government-mandated Solution and the Problems It Caused

The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to especially love .gov mandates. Biofuels and the Environment: The Second Triennial Report to Congress.

It is a government document, written in the turgid style that only academics can beat.

So the Congress passed (and George W. Bush signed) a law with a wonderful-sounding name, The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. It was supposed to spur an increased production of “clean renewable fuels.” It is the reason that we put corn into our gas tanks. It was supposed to help the environment. Turns out, not so much.

You see the EPA was SURE – so completely positive – that if they required ethanol be used in fuel, that all kinds of alternative sources including “advanced biofuels” would leap to market. Instead, corn and soybeans constitute most of the source for ethanol we burn in out vehicles. They found this out in 2011, and reaffirmed in 2018:

the environmental and resource conservation impacts of biofuel production and use as delineated in Section 204 of EISA were, on balance, negative [That’s from the Executive Summary of the document.]

An increase in the number of acres planted at the expense of habitat, seems to be the one most to the EPA’s dislike (though they hand wave some of it away.)

In the “Future Impacts” section, they are still hopeful that “past performance is no guarantee of the future” as they see some hope that those “advanced biofuels” will finally arrive to save the day, but mostly…

Available data suggest that current trends using corn starch and soybeans as primary biofuel feedstocks, with associated environmental and resource conservation impacts, will continue in the near term.

And as someone said, in the long term, we’re all dead anyway.

The hubris to think you can control the future, control the markets. I don’t know who is more to blame, the EPA or Congress.

The problems identified.

  • Land Use – as habitat is converted to farmland
  • Air Quality – the emissions caused by growing stock, manufacturing and delivering ethanol
  • Water Quality – specifically algae blooms
  • Water Quantity – in irrigation
  • Etc.

The document also touches on the importation of biodiesel and the impacts that can have overseas, but given what is happening in Indonesia, they certainly gloss over it.

So will this law, which was supposed to save the environment, but turns out that it is hurting the environment, be repealed? Of course not. That would be painted as being anti-environment. Besides, those “advanced biofuels” will be here in the blink of an eye, and we’ll all be driving electric vehicles anyway. (And the corn-growers love the fact that the price is higher.) Hat Tip to Legal Insurrection and also to Tuesday Links from Clair Wolfe.


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