“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”– Edmund Burke
“Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
What did you pay for gasoline today? While I was half filling up my gas tank this morning, I noticed a sign on the side of the pump, “This fuel contains 10% ethanol”. I can remember the good old days when we were paying $1.00 per gallon for gasoline. (1997 outside of Atlanta, Ga.). What a difference 11 years can make.
Since corn ethanol was blended in the fuel I purchased, why was the ethanol/gasoline blend selling for the same price of $3.75 per gallon and across the street 100% gasoline was selling for the same price? Why are the ethanol blends selling for the same price as 100% gasoline while the U.S. taxpayer is paying billions for corn ethanol subsidies that are supposed to help offset the rising cost of gasoline?
I am not against the United States developing alternative fuels and processes to help wean off our oil addiction. Gasoline prices are near $4 a gallon in the United States, partly as a result of a 39 percent rise in the price of New York oil futures since the start of the year. Prices have more than quadrupled since 2003.
Consider the following fact: when you blend ethanol with gasoline, the ethanol and bio-fuels blends will be consumed as blends with gasoline or petroleum diesel and bio-fuels (ethanol) for some time and will become complements to petroleum-based transport fuels, not major competitors with them.
However, as I have said in the past and will keep saying, if ethanol has commercial merit, then why are we paying a subsidy for ethanol? If ethanol cannot be produced without subsidized pricing, then why keep producing such a product? This has to be the bottom line!
Just what are the subsidies costing the U.S. taxpayer?
In 2006, the feds paid ethanol blenders $2.5 billion and ethanol corn farmers $0.9 billion. The U.S. paid an extra $3.6 billion at the pump. Total was $2.21 extra per gallon of gasoline replaced. Of all that, $5.4 billion went for windfall profits creating what USDA’s chief economist called “ethanol euphoria”.
Also, subsidized corn results in higher prices for meat, milk and eggs because about 70 percent of corn grain is fed to livestock and poultry in the United States. Increasing ethanol production would further inflate corn prices. According to this study by Cornell university: “In addition to paying tax dollars for ethanol subsidies, consumers would be paying significantly higher food prices in the marketplace”. Well, no doubt all of us are paying more for our food this year.
Are ethanol subsidies necessary to “level the playing field?” Petroleum subsidies are something less than $1 billion a year – six to eight times less than ethanol subsidies – and work out to about 0.3 cents per gallon.
The biggest single ethanol subsidy is the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, VEECT, which grants a tax credit to blenders who combine ethanol with gasoline, in the amount of 51 cents per gallon of pure ethanol blended. Also, don’t forget the federal mandated Energy Policy Act of 2005 which, requires that 4.0 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2006 and 7.5 billion gallons in 2007 be used. There are also “significant direct agricultural subsidies for farmers that reduce their water, fuel, and other costs below market”.
A report issued by The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) has estimated that such subsidies currently sum to $1.05 to $1.38 per gallon of ethanol. or 42 percent to 55 percent of ethanol’s wholesale market price. This means the economic value of the resources that are used to produce a gallon of ethanol are nearly 50% greater than the value of the product to the consumers.
Also, the U.S. is importing ethanol and the impact of these mandates on the price of imported ethanol is greatly amplified by the 54-cents-per-gallon tariff currently in effect for imports of ethanol intended for use as a fuel. The U.S. government wants to make sure the import prices for ethanol have to compete with corn ethanol producers in the corn belt. That is what you call a level playing field for the farmer and ethanol producer, but a real bust to the consumer..
Ethanol producers also take extra advantage of ethanol subsidies. Suppose oil prices are high enough that ethanol and gasoline cost the same to produce; say that’s $2.00 per gallon. Ethanol producers will take advantage of the fact that blenders want the 51¢ credit, so they will push the wholesale price of ethanol all the way to $2.51, at which point blenders will still see it as just as costly as gasoline in spite of the subsidy. The USDA notes that over the past 25 years, the ethanol producers did in fact push the price this high, in fact, they pushed it about 3¢ higher. The result is that producers have captured all of the subsidy paid to blenders. This was probably the intention, but notice that with gasoline costing just as much as ethanol, the producers don’t need any subsidy–the subsidy simply provides them with windfall profits.
What can or should be done? As early as 2006, definite recommendations were made but fell on deaf ears and it seems Congress decided on policies that were poorly considered and strong efforts from the ethanol lobbyists helped get the subsidies passed. Based on the following statement (October 2006) from Mr. Simon Upton, director of GSI,(Global Subsidies Initiative), of IISD. “Many of these subsidies are poorly coordinated and poorly target for optimum results. All indications are that subsidies are being piled on top of one another without policy makers having a clear idea of their potential impact on the environment and the economy. Yet the potential for waste on a grand scale and some spectacularly perverse environmental outcomes is large. There is an urgent need to examine the claimed benefits from bio-fuel subsidies, and to compare them with the costs of meeting the same goals in other ways,” says Mr. Upton. “Until then, we suggest that the U.S. Congress and the States declare a moratorium on programs that would increase or extend subsidies to liquid bio-fuels, with a view to developing a plan for phasing out subsidies to all transport fuels as quickly as possible.”