“If you build it,” an Iowa corn farmer was told in the movie Field of Dreams, “they will come.” That worked out so well for all concerned that the federal government is reviving the approach, with some slight edits. “If we mandate it, the science will come,” seems to be Washington’s motto.
Instead, government has ended up replacing science with, well, fiction. Consider the push for renewable fuels.
It’s easy to see why lawmakers would want to encourage Americans to grow energy rather than dig it out of the ground. But in their eagerness to create an industry, lawmakers often go too far. In 2007, Congress passed a requirement that refiners add something called cellulosic biofuel to their gasoline. It’s made from non-edible plant material -- wood chips, corn husks, and so forth. The problem: Nobody could produce such biofuel on a commercial scale.
Still, hope triumphed over reality. Lawmakers demanded that refiners use 100 million gallons in 2010, 250 million in 2011, and half a billion in 2012. Refiners ended up breaking the law, though, because they used no cellulosic biofuel. Only about 20,000 gallons have ever been produced commercially, and all of that was exported to Brazil last year.
The federal government actually benefitted, in a way, because the Environmental Protection Agency fined refiners $6.8 million in 2011 for failing to use a product that didn’t exist. Good thing it’s not called the “Reality” protection agency.
EPA had wanted to pocket another $8 million or so in fines for last year, but a federal court said it cannot. Still, that isn’t stopping the agency from trying to squeeze more money out of refiners. This year, EPA says it will demand refiners use 14 million gallons of this non-existent product. Expect another lawsuit to ensue.
This matters to everyone, because we’re all paying more for gasoline than we need to, because when they’re hit with fines, refiners simply add their higher costs into the price of a gallon of gasoline. But another EPA program may end up costing you even more.
Two years ago, EPA declared that E15 -- gasoline that’s 15 percent ethanol -- is safe for use in any car made after 2001. Currently refiners are required to use 10 percent ethanol, as virtually any gas pump in the country warns you.