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Biofuels worse for environment than Obama administration thought, study finds

Biofuels made from left-overs of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global-warming in the short run, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will combat climate change,” reports the Associated Press. “A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline. . .the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel. The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.”

This is disappointing, because cellulosic biofuels are far less destructive to the environment than traditional ethanol, which is a special interest boondoggle that harms the environment while enriching politically-connected companies at the expense of taxpayers, consumers, and hungry people in the Third World.

The Obama administration has clung to ethanol mandates, backing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Obama administration has ignored laws like the Information Quality Act in pushing ethanol mandates based on junk science. For example, in October 2011,

the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Action Aid petitioned the EPA to review the so-called renewable fuel standard that mandates that 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into the gasoline supply next year. The free-market think tank and global hunger charity argued that the EPA’s technical regulations implementing the mandate did not meet “basic standards of quality” [since] EPA failed to consider multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting the link between ethanol and world hunger in its public health literature review, as required by law. That includes one paper that concludes that biofuel mandates are responsible for at least 192,000 premature deaths every year. Overall more people die from chronic hunger world-wide than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.

EPA ignored all this evidence, and denied this petition (alleging violations of the federal Information Quality Act) after a fourteenth-month delay.

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two leading environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world. In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes. . .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.”

Alarmingly, they described how

food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy — most of which comes from coal. Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts. . .Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm. Here in the United States, farmers are pulling land out of the federal conservation program, threatening fragile habitats. . .Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time Magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world’s largest ‘carbon sink.’ And when the forests are cleared and the land plowed for farming, the carbon that had been sequestered in the plants and soil is released. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger has modeled this impact and reports in Science magazine that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions — and thus a catalyst for climate change.

In Human Events, Deroy Murdock chronicled how rising food prices due to ethanol mandates forced starving Haitians to literally eat dirt (dirt cookies made of vegetable oil, salt, and dirt), and fueled violent protests in unstable “powder kegs” like Pakistan and Egypt. More recently, biofuel mandates have fueled hunger and malnutrition in Guatemala.

The Obama Administration forced up the ethanol content of gasoline, heedless of the fact that ethanol makes gas costlier and dirtier, increases ozone pollution, and increases the death toll from smog and air pollution. Ethanol mandates also resulted in deforestation, soil erosion, and water pollution. By driving up food prices, they fueled Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Egypt, Yemen and other poor countries in the Middle East. The Obama Administration persisted in backing ethanol mandates despite widespread criticism from experts across the political spectrum.