No wait, let’s grow weeds and burn that instead!

[After my latest letter on ethanol was published, a local farmer took exception to my analysis and pointed out some information that wasn’t in the SJ-R article I referenced.  Then he got a little personal.  See it here.

So I checked his points out and replied.  Or, as one of my sons explained once as I untangled him and his brother — “he hit me back first!”

Anyway, I’m sure Mr. Niemeyer is a fine, hard working person and if I ever meet him I’d happily buy him a drink.  It’s a way better use for ethanol.]

Regarding Garry Niemeyer’s response to my ethanol energy policy letter, it’s always flattering to see someone’s paying attention.  And I enjoy a good ad hominem attack as much as the next person.  But I didn’t say the policy didn’t make sense to me — I said it’s detached from reality and incredibly stupid.

His letter did prompt me to read beyond the original SJ-R article I referenced, which led to an enlightening Congressional Research Service report. The situation isn’t as insane as I originally thought.  It’s more dumber!

Niemeyer correctly noted the 15 billion gallons cap on ethanol from corn starch.  Although corn ethanol has been subsidized since the 1970’s without even approaching economic viability, Congress has come up with something worse.  16 billion of the 36 billion gallon renewable fuel mandate for 2022 has to come from cellulosic biofuels.  Switchgrass is the current darling of that movement and is even more expensive.  As of 2010, no commercial-scale plants are on-line.

The EPA has had to revise the annual cellulosic mandates, making a minor adjustment from 100 million down to 6.5 million gallons for 2010, and a little tweak from a 250 million gallon requirement to “a range of 5 to 17.1 million” for 2011.  So, to make the 2022 mandate, we’ll only have to increase production 2,460 times current capacity.  Or maybe make more from corn.

I’m not sure how the Calculus, Statistics, and Quantitative Economics courses I took while completing an Accounting degree stack up against the elementary school gold star Niemeyer’s son awarded him, but I’m confident that as a taxpayer I understand the government’s ethanol policy better than a corn farmer.

Why?  Because, as Upton Sinclair observed, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

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