Ethanol Is Just Awful, Episode 746

More evidence that ethanol is just awful: it seems to be destroying Guatemala’s food supply. This sounds like a complex event with many factors (food independence isn’t even necessarily desirable for a country when you can have the comparative benefits of globalized trade), but Guatemala doesn’t really seem to be better off here.

I have often wondered if ending the U.S. ethanol mandate would be the single greatest, most achievable, and least controversial policy change that would most benefit the most Americans – and the world as well. Naturally that concept is highly subjective and uncertain (ending the drug war could arguably cause more good, but it is still much more controversial). But it seems that ethanol has become increasingly unfavorable to more and more groups while its costs and lack of benefits have become increasingly obvious.

There are conservatives and liberals and independents and libertarians who all hate it, from the people that don’t like government intervening in things (but especially not in “green” things), to the people that love government intervening in things (and especially in “green” things) but admit that this has been a terrible intervention both in terms of accomplishing “green”-ness and in terms of all the other unintended consequences that have come forth.

Ethanol wastes food and makes food more expensive when we have record populations to feed, and it doesn’t even help the environment, either. It’s basically a lose-lose-lose for everyone but the few farmers who benefit from its mandated use, and the only reason it’s still around is because their lobbying power is enough to hold down the political inertia of the status quo that requires billions of gallons of the stuff to be produced every year.

But there are signs that a shift is occurring, and not just because you can find news articles talking about ethanol policy becoming more “unpopular.” In 2012, Congress actually allowed some ethanol tax credits to expire, and for the first time since the mandate, ethanol production actually dropped last year, from 13.8 billion gallons to 13.2 billion.

To be sure, 2012 was a bad year for U.S. crops in general, but at the same time it wasn’t quite bad enough for Obama to do the obvious and suspend the mandate – although it was bad enough to get about a quarter of Congress to ask Obama to at least temporarily suspend it. That is lightyears away from where Congress was five years ago.

So, seriously, how do we stop this thing? There’s a broad coalition who opposes it, and momentum seems to be on our side. I’m not aware of anyone who’s legitimately arguing that the ethanol mandate serves the general interest of the public. Can we just all call our Congressmen and ask them to sponsor a bill ending the mandate? (Note: I’m not actually that naive.) Do we have to fight fire with fire and start a SuperPAC or find some special interest groups who would benefit from ending the mandate? Can we just keep writing blog posts about how awful ethanol is?

I’m completely serious, though. I think ending the ethanol mandate is close enough to be within reach, and effective enough to be worth pursuing. I’m just not quite sure how we get there.

One thought on “Ethanol Is Just Awful, Episode 746”

  1. Our local 76 station has a huge sign out front that says, “Our Gas Is Ethanol-Free.” Given the ethanol mandate, I don’t know how that’s legal. But it says something when a company in one of the most pro-environment places in the country thinks it will benefit by advertising that it doesn’t use ethanol.

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