Opponents of using food for fuel, I’ve got good news and bad news. First the good: It appears that Congress is finally willing to kill two of the ethanol industry’s main government supports — the 45-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax credit worth about $6 billion per year, and the 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol.
Now the bad: The Obama administration (which has been as aggressive an advocate for ethanol as any corn-state Senator) isn’t going to let the ethanol industry down — even if it means using federal dollars to ensure that 40 percent of U.S. corn keeps going into American gas tanks. The administration’s commitment comes despite the fact that so-called “second generation” biofuels — i.e. the kind that don’t require corn as the feedstock — remain forever “around the corner” (as this recent Reuters investigation documented).
In fact, the administration has come up with a new ethanol program, and this time it may have an argument that will make the effort bulletproof: Ethanol is now a matter of “national security.”
The USDA, the Department of Energy and the Navy announced an agreement to spend $510 million to, as the White House blog put it, “construct or retrofit advanced biofuel plants to produce drop-in aviation and marine biofuels that will power our military’s ships and aircraft and our commercial transportation fleet.”
The administration even trotted out Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to declare, “having energy independence for the United States is one of the most important things we can do from a military standpoint.”
What patriotic American is going to disagree with the Secretary of the Navy?
What’s frustrating isn’t that the government is investing in alternative liquid fuels. It’s that, national security be damned, we’re barking up the wrong energy tree: All the data point to ethanol being a climate dead end. And it’s a dead end that’s eating our food. Yet the government finds ways to keep the money flowing towards ethanol. It’s truly the boondoggle that just won’t die.