Senate Debates Energy Bill Today

Lynne Kiesling

Hold on to your wallets; the Senate is debating the energy bill today. I actually just heard John Thune say that ethanol is a clean fuel that will lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Spare me. Ethanol is neither clean nor a silver bullet to make us self-sufficient in energy. Ethanol production is filthy, just as dirty as other manufacturing processes, particularly when you take into account the appalling effects of fertilizer runoff killing fish in the Gulf of Mexico when growing the corn for the ethanol. Why don’t the Senators from Louisiana open up a can of whup ass on this one?

Reducing dependence on foreign oil is a specious objective when you recognize that oil is traded in integrated world markets and we are not low-cost producers. So even if we reduce our oil consumption the marginal barrel of oil will still come from somewhere in the Middle East. That won’t change. Reducing our consumption would be likely to reduce oil prices (but only marginally, because China’s demand is the big price driver right now) and would be good from a conservation perspective, but it won’t change the fact that we import oil from places we don’t think we can trust.

Ethanol is nothing more than a rent-seeking wealth transfer from the distributed and disorganized drivers to the highly organized and lobby-happy large agriculture industry. Rent seeking is waste. In this case it’s waste falsely draped in the mantle of green energy and national security, but waste it is nonetheless.


16 thoughts on “Senate Debates Energy Bill Today

  1. What is this? Where is Lynne and what have you done with her? An ethanol post sans at least a few lines ranting on ADM? Perhaps all of that energy goo you must have ingested last weekend has done something to your head. Bring back the old Lynne…and if you cannot at least keep the commentary on transfers-through-the-political-process coming. With or without trademark rants on everyone’s favorite rentseeker, the Energy Bill is going to need lots and lots o’ ‘splainin.

  2. OK, you asked for it … the 800-pound gorilla in the ethanol rent-seeking slime pit is Archer Daniels Midland, rent-seekers/price fixers/corn syrup fascists to the world!

    Happy?

    BTW, because of my insulin resistance I don’t do energy goo or energy drinks; I’m a pure water girl. That may be another factor that limits me to sprint triathlons, in addition to my lame-o feet.

  3. The Louisiana delegation is obligated to the cane sugar growers, who are in turn obligated to Senators and congressmen from corn states for supporting the sugar program that maintains a constant, above market price for their sugar. The reciprocal obligation stems from the fact that the above market price for sugar in the Us sustains a market for corn sweetener that uses even more corn than ethanol production does.

  4. Oh yeah, the sugar rent seekers. How could I forget them and the venal mutual back scratching?

    And you wonder why I hate politics.

  5. Oh yeah, the sugar rent seekers. How could I forget them and the venal mutual back scratching?

    And you wonder why I hate politics.

  6. If Ethanol was a superior/cheaper substitute for diesel wouldn’t the market already be using it? If its do good why does it need government help?

  7. Dave, gasoline blended with ethanol burns a little cleaner than gasoline straight, but until recently gasoline was so inexpensive that the only way for the government to get oil companies to blend in ethanol was to mandate it. Government assistance was also needed initially to finance ethanol infrastructure — processing plants.

    The economics have changed somewhat, because of gas prices that are higher than they were and will likely stay that way. An irony, per my post upthread: ethanol is actually more efficiently produced from sugar cane than from corn, but American sugar cane costs much more to grow than cane in Brazil and other tropical countries. So though ethanol’s economics work now for corn farmers, in a few years we could conceivably be back to where we were a couple of years ago, when domestic ethanol could not survive without large-scale government help.

  8. If you are interested in learning about a major advance in the production of ethanol that will have a major impact on what its feedstock can be and where it will likely be produced, check out http://www.brienergy.com/. They have built a small-scale pilot plant that can convert agricultural, forestry, and urban waste (including sewage) into ethanol in a fraction of the time (minutes) sugar fermentation takes (days). Its all based on using a bacterial culture to convert the syngas resulting from gasified feedstock into ethanol (while cogenerating excess green power).

  9. If you are interested in learning about a major advance in the production of ethanol that will have a major impact on what its feedstock can be and where it will likely be produced, check out http://www.brienergy.com/. They have built a small-scale pilot plant that can convert agricultural, forestry, and urban waste (including sewage) into ethanol in a fraction of the time (minutes) sugar fermentation takes (days). Its all based on using a bacterial culture to convert the syngas resulting from gasified feedstock into ethanol (while cogenerating excess green power).

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