Recently, a bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress led by John Thune (R-S.D.) sent a letter (PDF) to U.S. EPA administrator Stephen Johnson asking him to loosen clean-air regulations on coal-fired ethanol plants — the recommended change would increase allowable emissions from 100 tons to 250 tons annually.

The purported rationale is to "bolster ethanol production across the country," and it would no doubt do so. After all, it’s much easier to built a coal-fired plant when you don’t have to spend extra money on the best available pollution-control technologies.

But of course, this makes sense only if ethanol production is an end in itself. If the point of increasing ethanol use is to reduce pollution and GHG emissions, then this regulatory change makes no sense.

This, in a nutshell, is my concern about ethanol: The impetus has shifted seamlessly from finding solutions to our energy problems to subsidizing big ethanol-related industries. Those two goals overlap a little, but only a little.

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Local and state air-pollution officials express their dismay here.

Oh, and on a related note: Check out this completely daffy statement from Grassley and Thune on why tariffs on ethanol imports should remain in place. Brazil doesn’t have enough to export to us anyway! The oil companies would benefit! Etc. The real reason, obviously, is that the domestic ethanol industry would suffer. Again, we seem to have lost sight of the larger goal … if we ever had sight of it.

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(via dKos)