The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has been a disaster since its well-intentioned beginnings more than 12 years ago. It aimed to lower greenhouse gas emissions, a respectable undertaking, and to produce more domestic fuel. It didn’t take long, however, to watch this experiment plummet to failure – harming businesses, consumers and the environment, all while costing taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars.
The problem is that Big Corn has a stronghold on the administration. Because of this, rather than the sensible solution of repealing the RFS, various negotiations have taken place over the past several months in an attempt to appease all sides of the issue. Last week, the administration handed ethanol producers a big, lopsided win with the decision to allow year-round sales of E15 – fuel blended with 15 percent ethanol.
Permitting year-round E15 sales is just one more way to game a failed system and, at best, put a band-aid on a broken policy. It will ultimately push other fuel blends that consumers rely on — such as ethanol-free fuel for boaters, motorcyclists, and anyone with a lawn mower, chainsaw, or other small-engine equipment — out of the marketplace.
Even more dangerously, this action will continue to allow the government to pick winners and losers, at an additional expense to taxpayers. Government mandates that favor a “winner” typically create more “losers” — it’s a vicious cycle and a path down which we do not want to venture.
The bottom line is that we are dealing with a mandate that not only was a failure from the start, but whose purpose is now especially obsolete.
As far as producing more domestic fuel, the writing was on the wall 10 years ago upon the start of the American shale revolution. Now, the Department of Energy predicts the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022, marking the first year since 1953 that U.S. energy exports surpassed imports.
Environmentally, the RFS has had the opposite of its intended effect and has proven to be detrimental. Any lowered emissions from ethanol-blended fuel are more than offset by the increase in overall fuel production and consumption they cause – the result of a higher supply and lower prices – which will only be exacerbated by expanding the sale of E15. Meanwhile, independent research continues to reveal that emissions from corn ethanol are detrimental to our water and terrain – from plowing land, to harvesting and transporting corn and, finally, to producing ethanol.
While some RFS advocates say that no existing energy source is free of adverse effects, and that corn ethanol has its benefits, great – if it is truly a sustainable renewable fuel, then let’s stop tipping the scales with government handouts and let it compete in the free market.
This all leaves us as an increasingly energy-dominant nation being hindered by a broken, expensive government mandate that favors a small population of corn farmers who happen to be backed by a powerful lobby. There is no justifiable reason for the administration to continue to prop up this mandate, rather than to remove it and allow for an even playing field.
The debate should have ended long ago. U.S. taxpayers, air quality and our national security are all better off – in fact, they would thrive – without the RFS. If we want to make real progress with job creation, financial health, cleaner air and advanced biofuel development, Congress needs to act quickly – and to take a more realistic and holistic view of how this failed policy is holding us back.
Let’s put a stop to government handouts and let the market run how it is intended. The story it would tell is one of energy dominance, lower fuel costs and an ever-improving environment – a story that would strengthen exponentially if the RFS were deleted from it.
Nan Swift is the director of federal affairs at the National Taxpayers Union.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.
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