WHEN Washington knows best, you can bet your boots there's a vote being courted somewhere.
Washington's chosen "winners" benefit. The chosen "losers" are dismissed as "special
At its core, that's the story of the federal government's requirement that gasoline be diluted with alcohol. It was to be the Washington solution to imported oil and global warming.
Along the way, some farmers would be brought along to support the agenda, and the oil industry would be the loser. In fact, everyone in the game has a special interest, whether for or against.
Things haven't turned out quite like the politicians envisioned eight years ago, and that's why this month Congress will begin the process of changing, if not eliminating, the law known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) which even the Environmental Protection Agency, which polices the law, admits has problems.
Rep. David McKinley is ideally positioned to help guide a proper solution. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, an engineer with an understanding of the energy industry in West Virginia, he will be critically important to the deliberation.
The RFS requires annually increasing amounts of biofuels be added to the nation's transportation fuels. This year it's 16.44 billion gallons.
Next year it's supposed to be 18.15 billion gallons. Most of that is corn-based ethanol added to gasoline to make the E10 blend.
Enter the problems of "assumptions" and the law of unintended consequences.
Washington assumed that the nation's demand for gasoline would continue to grow. It hasn't.
In fact, it is on a downward trend, declining from 142 billion gallons in 2008 to an estimated 134 billion gallons this year. The reasons: in part the bad economy but also because the nation's motor vehicle fleet is — by law — increasingly fuel efficient.
At the outset there was no commercial biofuels industry, so Washington saw to it that one was created by offering generous federal tax incentives (a chosen winner). Corn was the principal feedstock.
Washington assumed that "cellulosic" ethanol would be a significant input, but that industry has yet to develop. So as a practical matter about 40 percent of the nation's corn crop goes into the nation's fuel tanks.
Among the unintended consequences, the RFS has helped drive corn prices to historic highs.
Since corn comprises about 65 percent of cattle and poultry farmers' input costs — their higher costs of business have been reflected in higher prices throughout the nation's food chain in which corn and corn products are ubiquitous.
The ethanol blend itself has created problems for a variety of users. It contains about a third less energy than gasoline, so it reduces miles-per-gallon rates. It can damage o-rings and other seals in engines.