Food for Fuel

The Blend Wall:  Ethanol and Biomass

This week, SEPP made a presentation at an EPA hearing on the 2014 renewable fuel standards (RFS) and 2015 biomass-based diesel volume. The purpose is to establish the annual percentage standards for cellulosic, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuels for 2014. A secondary purpose is to determine the applicable national volume of biomass-based diesel required for 2015. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 does not establish standards for the latter beyond 2012.

The principal conflict is that the nation has hit the “blend wall.” Gasoline consumption is down, and the ethanol volume required by the act would necessitate that the percentage of ethanol mixed with gasoline to exceed 10%. EPA has the discretionary authority to reduce the volume requirement and is considering doing so. The automobile manufacturers and the petroleum industry have requested such a reduction, arguing that a higher ethanol percentage would be potentially damaging to gasoline engines.

SEPP’s comments were a shift in approach in addressing such issues before a potentially adversarial, non-technical audience. Rather than arguing that the EPA science is wrong, the comments argued that the science is out of date. It has been superseded by events. The three lines of evidence presented by the EPA in its Endangerment Finding no longer support the finding. The distinct human fingerprint (pronounced warming of the atmosphere above the tropics) cannot be found, the claimed unprecedented and dangerous global surface warming stopped 16 years ago, and the models are unreliable because they failed to predict that warming would stop.

Similarly, the 2007 mandate was passed by a Congress during a time in which its judgment was clouded by two fears: 1) increased dependence on imported oil from unstable regions and 2) global warming from CO2 emissions endangering human health and welfare. Both fears are out of date, rendering the standards obsolete.

There were 144 speakers listed. As can be expected, the majority of speakers were from the corn-to-ethanol industry and the biofuel industry who opposed the volume reduction. The Governor of Iowa denounced the proposed change stating the administration is unduly influenced by big oil – no doubt a surprise to the petroleum lobby.

The principle arguments opposing the RFS reduction included: green jobs, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, ethanol helps rural America, national security, global warming, big oil is manipulating the EPA, etc.

Those supporting the reduction and some who oppose the RFS altogether included representatives from the food industry and gasoline station owners. The arguments included that ethanol and biofuels are driving up food prices and that ethanol is a burden to gas station owners.

A special panel two members of the House of Representatives spoke. Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), who is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Vice Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, spoke strongly against the RFS and presented a letter signed by some 190 members of the House, stating that the RFS will be revisited in 2014. Rep. Goodlatte stated that although the RFS is beneficial to the corn industry, overall it is distorting the markets for food, feed, and fuel. He asserted there must be a better way to help the corn industry.

The real surprise was Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) who, as a freshman Congressman, was one of the authors of the 2007 RFS. He stated the RSF was “a well-intentioned flop.” Also, he complained that ethanol ruined his chainsaw, a common complaint by owners of two cycle engines. See links under Green Jobs, EPA and other Regulators on the March, and Alternative, Green (“Clean”) Energy – Other.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Wind Promoters

Promoters of wind and other alternative forms of energy in Western countries are again bring up world-wide fossil fuel subsidies. As discussed in the April 6 and April 13 TWTWs and in an article by Bjorn Lomborg carried in the November 12 TWTW, 75% of the subsidies occur in 12 countries. The 5 major ones are, in order, Iran ($82 billion), Saudi Arabia ($61 billion), Russia, India, China (between $30 to $40 billion), and Venezuela, Egypt, Iraq, U.A.E., Indonesia, Mexico and Algeria making up the rest. The subsidies occur by state controlled oil companies of these countries selling oil products below world market prices. In Venezuela gasoline costs as little as 1.5 cents a gallon, unofficial exchange rate, up to 5.6 cents a gallon for premium, official exchange rate. Since politicians of these countries choose to subsidize petroleum to promote political stability, should Western politicians subsidize unreliable solar and wind to promote grid instability? See the prior TWTWs and links under Communicating Better to the Public – Make things up.

Changing Change and Credibility Loss

First it was the fear of global warming. When that stopped, the orthodoxy tried climate disruption, then climate change, which has been ongoing for hundreds of millions of years. Now, the US National Research Council has come up with a new fear – abrupt climate change. How a gradual increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere causes abrupt climate change is not well explained, but the label may stick this time! The real issue at stake is not the fear, but the loss of credibility of once vaunted scientific institutions that produce statements such as: Climate is changing, forced out of the range of the past million years by levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases not seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for a very, very long time. Lacking action by the world’s nations, it is clear that the planet will be warmer, sea level will rise, and patterns of rainfall will change. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.

Lost? Judith Curry discussed an article asserting that science has lost its way. The article deals with rewards for researchers in life sciences and that many splashy research results cannot be reproduced. Curry divides research into four types and suggests rewards structures should be tailored according to the specific type of research. When discussing climate research, she further states: In terms of money being thrown down a rathole for climate research, … that taxonomical studies of model-based regional impacts rests on the premise that climate models provide useful information for regional impact studies, and they do not. Well put. Studies based on long term projections from un-validated climate models have little value. See link under Seeking a Common Ground.

Climate Change: Uncertainty and Risk

: On the Plos blog, Tamsin Edwards has a post on uncertainty and how people perceive it. It is based on a conference on “Communicating Risk and Uncertainty around Climate Change.” Nine attitudes are discussed including people have a finite pool of worry, often interpret uncertainty as ignorance, and are uncomfortable with uncertainty. One of the points made was how to respond if a journalist asks: “What does it mean to increase from 90% confident to 95% confident?”, a scientist could make this clearer with “[We think] the chance climate change is natural is now half as likely as before.”

Of course, such a response is not improvement in the issue. As the models, on which the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) heavily relies, diverge further from actual observations, the IPCC has expressed greater certainty in its work. In effect, as the public has greater reason to doubt the work, the IPCC insists that it is more certain. No wonder its climate scientists need special conferences on communicating better with the public. Expression of a little doubt may be helpful. See link under Seeking a Common Ground.

Extreme Weather Predications Fail

: Although the year has not ended, it appears to be a dud for those claiming more, extreme weather events. US tornados are down, the hurricane season was uneventful, and major global tropical cyclones making landfall are down. Roger Pielke Jr. posted the latest cyclone statistics with a link to the work by Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics. The Global and Northern Hemisphere Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) does not justify the claims of more extreme weather events. In January, it will be interesting to review the financial report of Munich Re, the large reinsurance firm. One must wonder if the rather tame weather is what the National Research Council defines as abrupt climate change. See link under changing weather and…


On an amusing note, the UK newspaper, Independent, reported that, during an American football game, the Seattle Seahawk fans created such an uproar that the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network detected vibrations that measured between magnitude 1 and 2 earthquake. One wonders how this compares with earthquakes reported occurring from hydraulic fracturing of dense shale. Please see link under Changing Earth.

Number of the Week: 1 million and 1.3 million. The Wall Street Journal reports that the daily oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota will pass 1 million barrels per day (bbd) this month and the production from the Eagle Ford formation in Texas is approaching 1.3 million bbd. In January 2009, the production from the Bakken was about 100,000 bbd and in 2009 the average production from Eagle Ford was 843 bbd. The Federal agencies, which control US government land, have yet to finish the regulations on smart drilling that they claim are necessary to permit hydraulic fracturing on the lands they control. See… and…