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Cellulosic fuel is mostly mythical matter so far

IN his State of the Union speech in 2006, President George Bush made a bold prediction about cellulosic fuel:

"We'll fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks or switchgrass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years," Bush said.

President Obama, a strong supporter of the green movement, expanded taxpayer subsidies of green energies, including cellulosic fuel.

 The fledgling industry received another boost when the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of Congress, began requiring oil companies, refiners and importers to blend a certain amount of the fuel with gasoline.

There's just one problem: Despite the bold predictions of seven years ago, several billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies, and the heavy hand of the federal government, production of cellulosic fuel is near zero.

That has not stopped the EPA from making wild predictions about production of the fuel and then forcing companies and refiners to either adhere to the standard (impossible) or pay millions in penalties in the form of credits.

The American Petroleum Institute sued the EPA. Last week the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA had, once again, exceeded its authority by setting unrealistic expectations about cellulosic fuel production.

For example, EPA projected production of 6.6 million gallons of the fuel in 2011, when the actual production was zero.

The court found the EPA imposed a "special tilt" with its projections designed to promote growth of the industry. But in doing so, the EPA put refiners in the impossible position of being forced to buy and add a biofuel to gasoline that didn't exist.

You would think the court's decision, and the cellulosic industry's inability to produce much, if any, would cause the EPA to back off, but it has not. Last week the EPA released the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standards calling for 14 million gallons of cellulosic fuel to be mixed with gas.

Biofuel industry officials promise production is about to finally take off. Maybe it will, but it doesn't instill confidence when a taxpayer-supported product that the government forces someone to buy still can't make a go of it.

Hopefully, the court's decision will spare oil refiners from this folly. But until the mythical cellulosic fuel is perfected, it would be more realistic to substitute unicorn tears.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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