It is now clear that the federal corn ethanol mandate has driven up food prices, strained agricultural markets, increased competition for arable land and promoted conversion of uncultivated land to grow crops. In addition, previous estimates have dramatically underestimated corn ethanol's greenhouse gas emissions by failing to account for changes in land use.
Doug Koplow of the policy consulting firm Earth Track said that the mandate is effectively another kind of subsidy for ethanol, and warns that it may be difficult to come up with new alternative fuels without adverse environmental impacts.
While there has been some enthusiasm about biofuels from switchgrass, cornstalks and algae, Koplow said, "I think people are painting that as too rosy a picture."
American taxpayers and ratepayers are subsidizing a form of “renewable” energy—biomass electricity- that causes short and long-term harm to the public health and the environment. There are 234 of these so-called “clean and green” biomass electricity projects proposed for the U.S. The scale of these plants ranges from 25 to more than 100 megawatts (MW), often dwarfing the 255 existing biomass power facilities, which generally range from 2 to 5 MW capacity. This polluting form of electricity production currently accounts for over 50% of the so-called “renewable” energy in the U.S.
Earth Track presentation at the Biofuels Policy Forum briefing on April 14, 2011 in Washington, DC. The document provides an overview of the historical and projected level of subsidization to biofuels, and why this policy is not an efficient way to address concerns over greenhouse gas emissions or energy security.
By providing a longitudinal perspective on energy tax policy and expenditures, this report examines how current revenue losses resulting from energy tax provisions compare to historical losses and provides a foundation for understanding how current energy tax policy evolved. Further, this report compares the relative value of tax incentives given to fossil fuels, renewables, and energy efficiency.
Adapted from the report's introduction:
This study addresses a wide array of scientific, economic and technological issues related to the use of forest biomass for generating energy in Massachusetts.
The federal government supports the use of biofuels—transportation fuel produced usually from renewable plant matter, such as corn—in the pursuit of national energy, environmental, and agricultural policy goals. Tax credits encourage the production and sale of biofuels in the United States, while federal mandates specify minimum amounts and types of biofuel usage each year through 2022. Tax credits effectively lower the private costs of producing biofuels relative to the costs of producing their substitutes, gasoline and diesel fuel.
Use of biofuels does not reduce emissions from energy combustion but may offset emissions by increasing plant growth or by reducing plant residue or other non-energy emissions. To do so, biofuel production must generate and use ‘additional carbon’, which means carbon that plants would not otherwise absorb or that would be emitted to the atmosphere anyway. When biofuels cause no direct land use change, they use crops that would grow regardless of biofuels so they do not directly absorb additional carbon.
Subsidies for biofuels in the United States have reached levels unimagined when support for an "infant industry" began in the late 1970s. Today, the infant has grown into a strapping behemoth with a powerful sense of entitlement and an insatiable appetite for ethanol's primary feedstock: corn. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a record corn harvest of 13.2 billion bushels, 9 percent larger than the harvest of 2008.