EPA Denies Ethanol Waiver

No big surprise here, and I have been advising people that there was very little chance that the EPA would grant the waiver, but they have officially denied the ethanol waiver request from the state of Texas:

EPA denies Texas governor’s ethanol waiver request

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, during a conference call with reporters, said the agency’s assessment looked at the livestock issue and found feed prices have increased because of biofuel production. “However, is that the result of the (Renewable Fuels Standard) mandate? Our conclusion is no,” Johnson said. “And second, are those price increases meeting the statutory requirement of severe harm to the economy? And our conclusion is no.”

Environmental groups, concerned about how biofuels affect climate, water quality and biodiversity, also supported the waiver. Sandra Schubert, spokeswoman for the Environmental Working Group, said the denial is shortsighted and that the country should be focused on viable clean energy solutions. “Instead, the misguided corn ethanol mandate is forcing farmers to plow up marginal land and wildlife habitat, while increasing global warming and dumping toxic fertilizers and pesticides into our precious water sources,” she said in a statement.

On Capitol Hill, the decision drew mixed reaction. Members of the Texas congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has filed legislation that would freeze future ethanol production at this year’s level, criticized the agency’s decision.

“I am disappointed that the EPA missed this opportunity to provide relief for American consumers who are dealing with skyrocketing food prices due to the unintended consequences of the continued escalation of the ethanol mandate,” Hutchison said in a statement.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, also a Republican, called the decision a “victory,” saying it will allow farmers to “continue to plan for and meet the fuel and food needs of the future.”

Given the Bush administration’s infatuation with ethanol, I thought the chances of the waiver being granted were very slim.

20 thoughts on “EPA Denies Ethanol Waiver”

  1. the farm states lobby wins again.

    it’s an election year, dreamer!! watdja expect? how many farm state electorals are up for grabs?


  2. “Given the Bush administration’s infatuation with ethanol …”

    Strange that a person who can be so informed & perceptive on many energy matters switches off his brain whenever partisan politics are involved.

    Robert, the USA is a constitutional republic. The laws mandating ethanol were passed by Congress, both of of which are controlled by Democrats.

    That is right, Robert — those Congressional Democrats passed the ethanol mandates into law, not the Bush Administration. Unless you are arguing that Congressional Democrats are actually closet agents of Chimpy McBushitler?

    There is no need to clog up your otherwise thoughtful blog with amateur-level Bush Derangement Syndrome.

  3. It was Bush who championed for the higher ethanol mandate. He spoke glowingly of ethanol in his State of the Union, and then got a much more aggressive RFS passed. That is fact.


  4. From the Washington Post:

    Ethanol Industry Gets a Boost From Bush

    At the State of the Union address Tuesday night, Don Endres relished the strange applause rituals, the pomp and ceremony, and even the dinner in the Capitol beforehand at which he rubbed elbows with leading lawmakers.

    But most of all, Endres, the chief executive of the nation’s second-largest ethanol maker, relished President Bush’s message: that the government should sharply raise the mandate for ethanol use in motor fuels, setting a floor for alternative and renewable fuel use in 2017 that is equal to seven times the current ethanol output.

    So there is Bush pushing it. I am surprised you are seemingly unaware of this. But he was warned:

    Not everyone thinks Bush’s speech is good news. Oil refiners complain about mandates telling them how to blend fuels. Critics of Bush’s proposal say it will be impossible to hit the proposed requirement of 35 billion gallons a year by 2017 because the main renewable fuel used now, ethanol made from corn, is already driving up corn prices and will use much or all of the U.S. corn harvest. And technology for producing “cellulosic” ethanol from other feedstocks, such as switch grass, has not been proved on a commercial scale yet.

    Here he is signing an Executive Order. It’s beginning to sound like infatuation to me:

    Earlier in the day, Bush signed an executive order to reduce the federal government’s use of gasoline, increase its use of alternative fuels and buy more flex-fuel vehicles.

    So, as you can see, I am not at all uninformed on this issue, nor was my brain switched off when I said the administration is infatuated with ethanol. His speeches and actions support that statement.


  5. The R-party is a farm state party. They support any and all subsidies for farmers. So, they support corn ethanol.
    Corn farmers are doing great.
    The R-Party controlled the House, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and most states when ethanal got its really big boost. (2000-2006).
    When I worked in the S&L industry in the 1970s, we said there were two things we believed in: "Free enterprise and regulation Q." Reg Q meant the S&L's could pay more for bank depsoits and commercial banks. Deposit rates were regulated in those days.
    The farm state solons are in the same boat today. I am sure the two things they believe in are free enetrpirse, and mandated ethanol.

  6. I’m with Bush on this one. Ethanol lowers demand for foreign oil. Higher corn prices help our bloated trade deficit,half of which is caused by oil imports. Corn prices are falling rapidly,along with all other commodities. The bubble has popped. Corn is down over 30% in the last 6 weeks. That’s even steeper than oil’s decline.

  7. The bubble has popped. Corn is down over 30% in the last 6 weeks. That’s even steeper than oil’s decline.

    It’s all about volatility. The fuel supply is now entangled with the food supply. You may see fuel prices going up because of crop failures, or food prices going up because gasoline supplies are tight, increasing the demand for ethanol.

    So count me among those who think Bush is wrong. As long as corn ethanol has such a poor energy return, it is essentially just recycling natural gas. Natural gas works just fine as a transportation fuel, and we don’t have to deplete the soil to do it. I don’t suppose that you are of the belief that corn is not a highly erosive crop? Thus, the ethanol mandates are flushing our topsoil into the Mississippi River at an accelerating rate (and pulling down the Ogalla Aquifer). That’s not good.


  8. Robert,we’d have the same effect if exports doubled. And corn exports have been climbing in the last few years. Would you be in favor of export curbs on corn? I’d love to see more transportation done with natural gas. I’ve been waiting years for Honda to sell the Civic GX in my state. Do refiners have a viable alternative to MTBE besides ethanol? Because MTBE does more damage to our water than flushed topsoil ever will.

  9. Do refiners have a viable alternative to MTBE besides ethanol?

    Modern engines do not really require an oxygenate. I have read several sources on this. The computers adjust the fuel system to compensate. There is some value as an octane-enhancer, but that is dependent on the refinery configuration. Refiners can also boost octane with alkylate or toluene.

    Because MTBE does more damage to our water than flushed topsoil ever will.

    Highly disputable. While I don’t advocate MTBE – and I don’t want to drink water containing MTBE – the main impact is that it gives water a bad taste. It is not classified as a carcinogen, but the health impacts are really unknown. So the statement “does more damage to our water system than losing our topsoil” can’t be supported. Note that I am not defending MTBE, nor do I mean to downplay the risks. I wish to contrast them with the risks of losing topsoil and draining aquifers. (But as I mentioned above, the point is moot anyway).

    What will happen on our topsoil is that if the rate of topsoil erosion continues, a lot of people are going to starve to death. We are stripmining the fertility out of it, and to compensate we add loads of nitrogen fertilizer, a lot of which ends up in waterways.


  10. “Modern engines do not really require an oxygenate”

    But the EPA does in areas where pollution levels are high. Is there a viable oxygenate besides MTBE or ethanol? MTBE polluted water is undrinkable. Estimates range from 25 to 40 billion to clean polluted wells. Aquifers can’t be unpolluted.

  11. But the EPA does in areas where pollution levels are high.

    Of course that’s political. Here is a portion of a statement from Senator Feinstein’s office supporting a petition to grant a waiver:

    “The California Air Resource Board (CARB) researched this issue at length and found that ethanol-blended gasoline does not help California meet the goals of the Clean Air Act as it relates to reducing ozone formation, particularly during the summertime, and, in fact, ethanol actually increases the emission of pollutants that cause ozone during the summer months.”

    Estimates range from 25 to 40 billion to clean polluted wells. Aquifers can’t be unpolluted.

    Again, I don’t want this to turn into an MTBE defense, because that’s not what it is. But that statement is inaccurate. Aquifers can be unpolluted. From the Wiki article on MTBE:

    “MTBE is biodegradable to CO2 and water under aerobic conditions with the correct bacteria. However, the natural occurrence of these bacteria with the ability to break ether bonds is not high, and it appears that most strains of MTBE-oxidizing bacteria are slow-growing bacteria with low biomass production per unit MTBE oxidized. In the proper type of bioreactor, such as a fluidized bed bioreactor, MTBE can be rapidly and economically removed from water to undetectable levels.”

    So, it can be done. It just takes lots of money and commitment to doing the job.


  12. So count me among those who think Bush is wrong.

    Fair enough, Robert. You can count me among those who agree wholeheartedly with you that the ethanol mandates are wrong. But your statement should factually read:

    “So count me among those who think Bush is wrong [for encouraging majority Democrats in both chambers of Congress to enact laws mandating the use of ethanol].”

    There is enough blame for everyone involved in our energy policy mess. When good Democrats like you, Robert, can admit to yourselves that Democrat politicians have been a big part of the energy problem, we may finally be at the start of that long hard road to a real solution.

  13. When good Democrats like you, Robert…

    That’s funny, as I have often been accused of being a die-hard conservative.

    As I have said before, Republicans think I am a Democrat, and the Democrats think I am a Republican. And in case you hadn’t noticed, my energy criticisms have been far more harsh on the Democrats.


  14. Kinuachdrach,

    Bush has the veto right? He could have vetoed the bill containing the ethanol mandates if he wanted to.

    The fact is he supported ethanol mandates and he owns the results of the mandates.

    Before slagging others about their opinions it would be good to put away your amateur-level defend Bush, (no matter how stupid the policy is), derangement syndrome.


  15. benny “peak demand” cole,

    The ethanol debacle is an utterly bipartisan one. Your attempts to pin it on the R party is just as much nonsense as Kinuachdrach’s attempts to blame it all on the democrats.

    Bernie Sanders was on the Thom Hartman program bragging about how much ethanol they had gotten into the energy bill.

    Both those guys are light years away from being members of the R party.


  16. Maury,

    The current oxygenate standards are a wholly owned give away to the ethanol industrial complex.

    Ethanol mandates came about because refiners would not “see the light” and use ethanol as oxygenate additives.

    Which points out the stupidity and danger of the government setting fuel blend requirements.

    If they were going to be smart about things they would specify tail pipe emissions standards and let the refiners (the people who make the fuel and understand what they are doing) set the fuel ingredients to meet the tailpipe standards.

    The policy of having politicians and government bureaucrats (this group mostly having law and administrative degrees) telling chemical engineers how to make fuel is completely insane.


  17. Maury,

    Absent the idiot ethanol mandates the corn bubble likely never would have developed.

    Your analysis on the environmental impacts of ethanol conveniently ignores the destruction they have caused in Brazil and other areas.

    Ethanol provides a perfect trifecta

    1. It does not decrease petroleum consumption

    2. It lowers fuel mileage

    3. It increases environmental destruction.


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