As America heads towards a $5 national average for a gallon of gasoline, the Biden administration has proposed a solution: Ethanol.
The Environmental Protection Agency earlier waived a limitation on ethanol in gasoline blends due to its association with leading to more smog at higher temperatures.
But as Biden lauds the potential of ethanol and other biofuels, notably amidst a major surge in food prices, there are official studies that connect ethanol not only to more pollution, but also to higher carbon emissions.
It should be noted that Biden has vowed to “promote ethanol and the next generation of biofuels,” declaring them “vital to the future of rural America—and the climate.”
In his Build Back Plan for Rural America, the Biden administration highlights ethanol and biofuels as key components of his strategy to tackle climate change:
- Promote ethanol and the next generation of biofuels. Biden believes renewable fuels are vital to the future of rural America – and the climate. As part of his R&D investment, Biden will invest in developing the next generation of biofuels. Biden will invest in research to develop cellulosic biofuels in a manner that protects our soil and water and addresses the challenge of climate change, while turning grass, crop residues, and other biomass into fuel. Doubling down on these liquid fuels of the future will not only make value-added agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change – reducing emissions in planes, ships, and other forms of transportation – but will also create quality jobs across rural America. From day one, President Biden will use every tool at his disposal, including the federal fleet and the federal government’s purchasing power, to promote and advance renewable energy, ethanol, and other biofuels.
President Joe Biden in April visited Iowa to announce that his administration was suspending the federal rule prohibiting the sale of higher ethanol blend gasoline amid a nearly unprecedented spike in gas prices.
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“I’m here today to talk about the work we’re doing the lower cost for American families and put rural America at the center of our efforts to build a future that’s made in America,” Biden said. “And that’s not hyperbole. It’s about being made in America. A lot of that has has to do with this industry. I just had a chance to see the work you do here and turn more than 40 million bushels of local corn into 130 million gallons of ethanol a year. That’s a lot of gallons. We want to see facilities like this all over the Midwest, and here’s why, first, it supports farms. It supports farmers and the farm economy.”
“Second, it creates good paying jobs,” he added. “It’s estimated there are over 400,000 jobs directly and indirectly supported by this industry nationwide. There’s a lot of people, that’s a lot and a lot of paychecks and good decent paychecks. Third, it reduces our reliance on foreign oil by adding this fuel to our gasoline.
“And fourth, it gives you a choice at the pump,” he added. “When you have a choice, you have competition. When you have competition, you have better prices. In addition to all that, you get less harm to the environment, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and you get even byproducts like grain here, which does goes into animal feed, which helps cattle producers and lowers their cars. This is an industry with a tremendous future.”
But corn, despite being green, does not mean that burning it is ‘greener’ for the environment. Reuters reported on a U.S. Department of Energy and National Wildlife Federation joint study that showed that corn-based ethanol is “likely a much bigger contributor to global warming than straight gasoline.”
“The research, which was funded in part by the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Department of Energy, found that ethanol is likely at least 24% more carbon-intensive than gasoline due to emissions resulting from land use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion,” the report noted.
The study explained why ethanol production is more harmful for the environment than burning fossil fuels. It boils down to energy density and land usage.
“As a result of the mandate, corn cultivation grew 8.7% and expanded into 6.9 million additional acres of land between 2008 and 2016,” Reuters reported about the study’s findings. “That led to widespread changes in land use, including the tilling of cropland that would otherwise have been retired or enrolled in conservation programs and the planting of existing cropland with more corn. Tilling fields releases carbon stored in soil, while other farming activities, like applying nitrogen fertilizers, also produce emissions.”
Notably, the newer findings contradict a 2019 USDA study, widely cited by the biofuel industry, that had claimed that ethanol’s carbon intensity was 39% lower than gasoline.
The left-wing journalistic publication Mother Jones criticized Joe Biden as refusing to let ethanol die.
“Even though it was once embraced by some environmentalists, ethanol has turned out to be much better at providing common ground for wildly disparate presidents than cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” the article states. “For starters, corn does a lousy job of turning the sun into fuel. Plants store just 1 percent of the solar energy they receive via photosynthesis, notes Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. A solar panel, by contrast, is 20 percent efficient.
“So you put a solar panel over the same land, you get 20 times more energy,” Jacobson said.
Yet the most energy dense source of power known to mankind is also “zero carbon.” It is nuclear energy. Harvard University published an article in 2016 that debunked many of the myths that have been spread by the anti-nuclear crowd since the 1970s.
“The United States emits an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is extremely likely that the rising global temperature trends since the mid-20th century is dominantly due to human activity,” Jordan Wilkerson writes. “No scientific organization of national or international standing disputes this. Furthermore, the US Department of Defense has officially stated that climate change poses a serious national security threat. In light of all of this, the United States recently ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, which means we are committed to significantly reducing our carbon emissions. How do we do that?”
“Ideally, we’d have a source that doesn’t emit CO2 and is consistently reliable; this is known as a baseload energy source,” Wilkerson adds. “In this context, nuclear energy is the main alternative energy source that works. Yet, unlike its fickle counterparts, nuclear energy is subjected to hostile attitudes adopted by a number of governments in the world which restrict the building or continual operation of power plants. Fear for Chernobyl and Fukushima-type catastrophes exacerbate the unpopularity of going nuclear.”
“The US, currently the world’s largest producer, relies on nuclear energy for 20% of its overall electricity generation,” he adds. “Yet there has historically been a strong anti-nuclear movement in the US, and the sentiment is still somewhat present today, as demonstrated by closures of nuclear power plants and stances held by prominent political figures such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.”
Wilkerson then discusses the basic physics of nuclear energy production.
“This chain reaction provides a lot of energy, and the best part is that it does so without emitting any CO2,” he notes. “In fact, the only CO2 emitted due to nuclear power plants is what’s released indirectly from developing the construction materials!”
Yet, despite the constant alarmism of climate change activists, nuclear energy is considered to be a non-starter. Is it because they don’t understand that nuclear power is safe, efficient, and zero-carbon?
Futhermore, despite Biden’s campaign pledge “no more — no new fracking,” natural gas is much cleaner than coal or gasoline emissions. His $1.7 trillion plan, dubbed “Green New Deal-lite,” aims for net-zero emissions by 2050. It would end fossil fuel subsidies and only rely on these energy sources during a 30-year transition period.
But U.S.-produced Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is not only a valuable resource, it is a tool to strategically lower European dependency on Russian natural gas. This is something the Trump administration understood prior to the Russian invasion that the Biden administration has blamed for partially fueling high gas prices. LNG also happens to be much more environmentally friendly, as the Center for Strategic & International Studies points out in an April 2022 article.
“In the short term, the pivot to U.S. gas represents incremental good news for the climate,” CSIS notes. “Emissions associated with supply chains for U.S. LNG can be up to 50 percent lower than those associated with Russian pipeline gas (though the actual performance is contingent on exactly where in the United States the gas is produced). This is a lucky coincidence and has more to do with old leaky Soviet pipeline infrastructure than the U.S. oil and gas industry’s superior environmental practices.”
“However, to be a viable long-term energy option for Europe and other economies in a decarbonizing world, U.S. LNG will still need to address its substantial carbon footprint—both upstream emissions and the emissions embedded in the cargo itself,” the article adds. “U.S. LNG has the potential to be the cleanest in the world, helping to retain its competitiveness through 2030 and beyond. But the industry will need a policy framework that supports innovation in carbon management and best practices for methane emissions through a mixture of regulations and tax policy.”
Yet increasing so-called ‘fossil fuel’ production (note: it is technically a “biofuel”) is apparently off the table for a Biden administration that is being criticized for conducting a “war on oil and gas.”
“Despite the reality that a shortage of refining capacity is a cause of high diesel prices, Biden’s EPA carried the administration’s assault on the industry to its downstream sector late in the week,” Forbes reported Sunday. “On Friday, EPA announced additional biofuel blending mandates not just for 2022, but also retroactive mandates that will force refiners to make up for 2020 and 2021 volumes that were previously suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Together, these actions reflect the Biden administration’s commitment to reset and strengthen the RFS (U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard), bolster our nation’s energy security and support homegrown biofuel alternatives to oil for transportation fuel,” EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said.
“The EPA edict will not just raise the cost of refining and distribution of gas and diesel – and thus result in even higher prices at the pump – it will also take millions more tons of corn out of the food supply during a time of growing global food shortages,” David Blackmon argues. “As such, it is a policy action that prioritizes the making of biofuel that many believe serves no useful environmental or economic purpose over efforts to prevent starvation in developing nations.”
The Biden administration will have to balance its domestic and foreign policy priorities with a purported concern over the changing climate. The White House could pursue a ‘have your cake and eat it, too’ strategy by lifting regulatory hurdles for nuclear energy and natural gas production and transit, while transitioning towards the environmental left’s pie-in-the-sky goal of a “zero carbon” economy.
Instead, the Biden administration appears to prefer that the American people live with pain at the pump. It’s a politically incoherent and environmentally incomprehensible strategy that defies ready explanation.
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.