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"We'll tell you next month" is the likely word from the EPA

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  It's the eleventh hour and the Obama administration is facing a crucial decision, one that could have a deep impact on the nation's economy and a united voice of experts is facing noisy opposition from special interests.  It's game time and the administration is on the field, ready to make the big play... and they instead choose to punt.

That's the likely scenario according to The Detroit News regarding ethanol waivers, a decision which was supposed to be made this week by Obama's iteration of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

I. Federal Government Backs Corn Ethanol Despite Massive Drawbacks

The EPA derives its power to regulated fuel economy from the Clean Air Act of 1963 [PDF], a law which was most recently amended in 1990 by Congress.  A key question in recent years is whether the EPA can dictate what fuels the market should sell or blend.  The last two Presidents -- Barack Obama and George W. Bush -- argued the answer to that question is "yes".  The most crucial effort to that objective was the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), signed into law by President Bush.

Under the EISA, which has been actively backed by President Obama, each year gasoline sellers in the U.S. must blend in more and more ethanol to help the U.S. meet "targets".

pumping fuel
President Bush and Obama have backed the federal government manipulating the economy to push corn ethanol at the pump. [Image Source: Nation Corn Growers Assoc.]
But despite its status as America's most used alternative fuel, serious questions surround ethanol and whether it really helps the environment at all.  While domestic ethanol production does offer a small shred of domestic security by removing some dependence on volatile foreign sources, studies have also shown that it actually increases greenhouse gas emissions and increases food prices.

In other words, the body of current evidence clearly points to corn ethanol -- the most abundant form of ethanol in the U.S. -- being bad news for both the U.S. consumer and the environment.

Automakers also say that higher blends of ethanol will damage the engines of older vehicles, in turn creating both economic problems.  The EPA dubiously says it knows the science better than the people who made the vehicles, arguing that the automakers are liars.

Obama bribery wide
Obama and Bush both backed big corn special interests. [Image Source: Politically Incorrect]

In the midst of all the issues, why is there still a modicum of support for government manipulation of the fuel market in corn ethanol's favor?

Big corn has long been one of the nation's most powerful special interest.  Corn farmers have benefited from billions in yearly government subsidies, with a major chunk of it coming from ethanol grants and mandates.  In total, corn farmers drew $73.8B USD from 1995-2009 from the U.S. federal and state governments.

II. Big Corn v. Everyone Else

Indeed the latest debate regarding ethanol comes down to "corn farmers" vs. "everyone else" -- including their fellow farmers.

Amidst a record drought, feed prices are soaring.  Livestock farmers have resorted to feeding their cows candy to try to keep from going bankrupt or letting their herd die.  Meanwhile, corn is being actively fermented (or wasted, according to critics) into ethanol, putting further pressure on prices.  And the EPA's fine-backed blending demands are the key factor driving that trend.

Farm drought
Without intervention, record corn prices coupled with drought may push small farms out of business. [Image Source: US News]

The corn farmers argue that they can't release information showing what their yields are; information that could validate the desperate farmers claims.  Instead, their argument boils down to "just trust us", as they fight a potential EPA waiver to help the struggling farmers.

The Michigan Farm Bureau comments "[We don't believe keeping the blending targets] would severely harm the economy of Michigan at this time. We do not have final harvest numbers, making it premature to determine what our total crop supply will be in 2012."

Likewise The National Corn Growers Association writes [PDF], "We believe the burden of proof for severe harm to the economy falls on the petitioner. We believe the petitioners have failed to establish this proof, since higher feed prices are only one piece of a complicated economic puzzle."

III. Blending Targets May Kill Small Farmers' Businesses

On the other side stands a united group of farmers, state, and federal politicians.

Corn prices are up 60 percent on the year, and food prices are expected to rise 3.5 percent or more this year -- and more next year -- largely due to ethanol pressure.  Corn prices have jumped 400 percent since the federal government backed corn ethanol under the Bush administration.

Eight state governors and 200 members of Congress have written a letter (on behalf of the slightly ironically named National Pork Producers Council) to the EPA pleading with it to relax blending rules via a waiver, at least for the rest of the year.  Delaware and Maryland's governors write that without a waiver the EPA would be creating "the loss of thousands jobs."

A number or researchers also signed a letter calling for a waiver.  Among them is John M. DeCicco and Ivette Perfecto from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.  They write, "The (Renewable Fuel Standard) diverts potential food crops to produce fuel, which drives up food price volatility and global food prices."

corn profits
Big corn donates deeply to federal politiicans, who in turn reward it with billions in subsidies.
[Image Source:]

It would be awfully hard for the Obama administration's EPA to deny the waiver in the midst of such overwhelming support.  On the other hand, it would be equally hard to turn their back on big corn special interests.  Those affiliated with the National Corn Growers Assoc. alone poured close to $500,000 USD to candidates on both sides of the aisle in 2012 [source] (the majority went to Republicans, likely due to their more critical stance on ethanol, which big corn hoped to soften).

IV. Silence From the EPA

The EPA released a brief comment remarking, "EPA is completing its review and analysis of the RFS waiver requests and the agency plans to reach a decision shortly."

But Tuesday's deadline for a decision came and went without any word about the status.

Punting a football
The EPA appears ready to punt on the waiver. [Image Source: How to Punt a Football]
Late last year Congress finalized the cut to corn ethanol's tax subsidy.  But the influx of money from big corn has some on The Hill calling for a renewal of an effort to force corn ethanol on the consumer, regardless the cost to the economy and the environment.

Amidst that backdrop, the only noise coming from the EPA is the sound of crickets as the waiver requests are punted deeper downfield.

Sources: The Detroit News, Fox News

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RE: Face punches for all
By Truenofan on 11/15/2012 7:44:45 AM , Rating: -1
"inefficient way of making fuel" yes, it can be. which is why we need another source of renewable fuel for automobiles. electric cars are a joke as of now.

"sorta bad for the engine" not really, stainless steel fuel tank, fuel lines and rails and new rubber for everything else. engines run fine on it, thats what "flexfuel" cars all have basically.

"drives up the prices of food" no, they use field corn, corn you dont eat, and no other human does either. its for animals. so no, it doesnt make food more expensive

"water problem" um.....they would have this water problem anyway, they still have to grow all the corn anyway. so with or without e85 we'd have this problem.

and here are the benefits of e85. ethanol, has a very high octane rating, in the neighborhood of 105-110. so you can have extremely high compression ratio engines to make full use of e85, but we don't. because its not widely available and its not a consistent e85 blend, it drops to ~70% in the winter in some area's.

it cools the intake charge, thus reducing detonation and allowing you to run even higher compression ratio. thus extracting even MORE energy out from the fuel. unlike gasoline, gasoline is a bad intake charge cooling method, ethanol/methanol and water are massively better.

while it does require the use of ~33% more fuel, you can get much more power out of an engine designed solely for e85. but with an e85 only designed engine, you can reduce the size of your engine, and still have more power or the same power, negating the problem of using more fuel overall. and then there's the issue of the ethanol, ethanol is hydrous, meaning if it stays in contact with water, it can cause many problems, which is why there are special injectors now as well, otherwise you'd have rusty injectors as well.

Koenigsegg CCXR is a prime example. it makes PEAK power, the most power you can eek out of it, on e85, because it can run more boost due to e85's benefits.

RE: Face punches for all
By Etsp on 11/15/2012 8:18:57 AM , Rating: 2
It doesn't make meat more expensive??

RE: Face punches for all
By Dr of crap on 11/15/2012 8:40:14 AM , Rating: 2
YES ! -
it does make food more expensive. The feed corns price goes up and then the feed for cows and other animals goes up.

You think the feed cost increase doesn't affect the price of beef?

Yep it takes more to go as far as you could using just gas. And so using E85 you spend MORE to go as far as regular gas. No benefit there.

It costs more to produce ethenal then the energy that you get out of it. If it was extremely cheap to produce that would be the holy grail, but it isn't. AND it's subsidized so the cost to produce is much higher than what you get back.

Sorry you're an ethanol backer, but at this point it isn't the best choice for gas. Bio-diesel would be a better choice. But there isn't the moeny backing it. And money talks!

RE: Face punches for all
By JediJeb on 11/15/2012 4:11:37 PM , Rating: 2
You think the feed cost increase doesn't affect the price of beef?

Actually the only way increased feed prices raise beef prices is if the farmers raise and sell fewer cattle. The price of beef is set by the buyers(based upon the price set by the futures and commodity market), not the sellers. So if the people buying beef don't want to pay more, then the farmers just make less money because they sell a steer at the same price while the feed costs more. Farming does not work like other businesses, farmers are stuck with asking "how much will you give me for my product" unlike say an automobile manufacturer what says "this is what I will take for my product".

When feed prices increase farmers have only a few options, raise and feed fewer animals to full weight and make less money, feed the same number to a lower weight and make less money, or try to feed the same number to the full weight and hope feed prices drop or commodity prices increase to make about the same money. Number three almost never works out for the best.

RE: Face punches for all
By tng on 11/16/2012 10:57:16 AM , Rating: 2
So if the people buying beef don't want to pay more, then the farmers just make less money
You are correct that this is what happens, but there is a downside to it for consumers. Having been raised in a farming community, you will see farmers switch to other products where the profit is better and eventually buyers for a specific product will pay much more because no one will grow/raise the product.

The driving force behind this has been large grocery chains here in the US. This has forced many farmers that I know to become part of a co-ops where they have more clout in the selling process.

RE: Face punches for all
By RufusM on 11/20/2012 12:05:59 PM , Rating: 2
The subsidies need to be re-worked as well. They originally started in the early 1900's to protect small farmers against natural disasters and provide for a more stable food supply.

Today, the subsidies are given regardless of financial need and situation. They help drive what and how much crop is planted. Long ago it became farm welfare, except many of the farmers are worth millions and the huge agricultural corporations are worth billions.

RE: Face punches for all
By tng on 11/21/2012 10:40:44 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I have seen that as well. Where I grew up there is a natural tendency to avoid any type of connection with the government and the one "farmer" who takes subsidies from the the Feds is seen as an outcast. Needless to say he is not a very well liked locally and the other farmers in the area will only talk to him to be polite.

RE: Face punches for all
By Truenofan on 11/15/2012 4:41:08 PM , Rating: 2
i'm not an ethanol backer. but i'm showing the benefits and downfalls.

it takes ~30% more fuel to create the same amount of energy in a flex fuel vehicle.

a flex fuel vehicle is also designed to run on the lowest grade gasoline thats most common.

if you were to design an e85 only vehicle, your compression ratio wouldnt be just 12:1 like most direct injection cars that require 93/95 octane. its more in the neighborhood of 14-16:1.

this allows you to extract far more energy out of the same amount of fuel used. this also allows you to use a smaller engine thus reducing your fuel usage.

also, it does not require more energy to grow than is given. its low, something like 1.3x(1x being 1 for 1 extraction) energy as a fuel produced for how much energy is used growing, processing, and shipping the food and fuel. but that also changes based on who you go to for your source of information and what kind of farm its grown on.
( a study done during the bush administration....)

then problem as i said before, it needs more fuel(its something like 9:1 AFR to reach stoichiometry with e85 vs gasolines 14.7:1 AFR) to achieve a controllable burn of the fuel. go look up what power people manage on pump e85(with 85% ethanol that is) and they manage much more power out of turbo and supercharged engines. you can make more power out of a given engine if its tuned/made for e85 and high octane. which is why when you design an engine to truely make use of e85. it makes more power.(yet another reason why we need small turbo engines, low boost for 89/93 octane, high boost when it recognizes it has e85 without the increased emissions of a big engine, and the horrid efficiency due to not being able to extract all the energy possible.)

RE: Face punches for all
By Concillian on 11/16/2012 7:07:55 PM , Rating: 2
And when you take all this into account, you get roughly the same MPG from an engine built specifically for E85 compared with an engine built specifically for unleaded gasoline.

The E85 engine has the downside of requiring some additional hardware for very cold starts, but otherwise is a smaller, lighter engine for a given power / torque requirement with lower emissions (both carbon and noxious) per mile.

I personally think that the thermal efficiency gains result in a better overall design, but before we can really think about that we need to bio-engineer a viable way to produce the fuel on a large scale.

I think that we'll eventually figure out how to produce it without having to grow crops and mash them up, but not until we stop subsidizing corn farmers. I'd much rather see that money go to bio-engineering research working on algaes for converting sun + salt water --> ethanol + fresh water. Or just not spending that money at all. It's doing no long term good going to support farmers.

I'm probably one of the few ethanol proponents you'll find who dislikes the way the government supports it. I envision a process that could keep billions or trillions of exported dollars in our country paying U.S. worker salaries instead of those of Saudis and their oil tanker crews. If we can discover the right process, we can offset the high cost of domestic labor by not having to transport fuel across oceans, only needing to truck it from the sun belt to the snow belt.

RE: Face punches for all
By TheJian on 11/15/2012 9:49:47 AM , Rating: 3
ROFL...So if cows have no food they die right? I eat meat, so less to go around means my bills go up right?

You make no sense, just like all EPA people. The need for the epa has past. They are just screwing us now for their own agenda.

51% of the country voted for this fool who can't do anything but vote PRESENT still. You should have voted this A$$ out, and romney would have promptly dismantled the wasteful EPA and drilled the hell out of america. You got what you asked for, get ready for the bills people. The only people who are going to get richer here, is obama's friends and himself. The rest of us (including the rich who create all the jobs to begin with) will be paying for him and his friends. Saul Alinksy's rules for radicals at work. You should have expected nothing less from someone who worships this guy and others like him (frank marshall davis etc).

saul alinsky rules for radicals
Google that to read about this "Community Organizer" who taught obama how to fleece america ;) Your fellow bastard from...wait for it....CHICAGO ILLINOIS...

Who else worships this A$$?
"Hillary Clinton's senior honors thesis on Saul Alinsky, written at Wellesley College" ...You can google the rest... These two idiots (along with harry reid/pelosi) are destroying what is left of our country.
Or just look there for all the crap this guy did and his followers (clinton, obama etc, all loved him).

Wake up people. Instead of occupy wall street, do something useful and occupy the white house :) They both got 4 good people killed and now intend to blame it on a blackmailed petraues for having sex...LOL. Quit falling for their BS, both Obama and Holder knew about his affair long before they put him in place, just so they could use it later. You'll keep getting corn crap instead of drilling, solar instead of drilling, and dumb batteries until you un-elect/impeach or put in jail every person having anything to do with obama/clinton. Now he gets offered a cushy job at a college to shut up and fall on the sword. Our only hope is, Petraeus actually has the balls to speak up and get this fool impeached for getting 4 people killed. $10 says he takes the cushy job and doesn't testify (at the same college as Van Jones...Remember him? ROFL..So much corruption). You like steak? If obama punts and votes present agian, you'll all be eating less of it. My 2c :)

We don't need another source of fuel...We just need to DRILL and BURN what we have. It's called OIL and COAL. It's unbelievable how easy it is to get politicians to sell out. $500K in donations gets destruction of our economy and BILLIONS in subsidies?

RE: Face punches for all
By FITCamaro on 11/15/2012 12:57:33 PM , Rating: 2
Well you're supposed to stop eating meat because that's bad for you too just like everything else.

RE: Face punches for all
By tastyratz on 11/15/2012 2:14:28 PM , Rating: 2
Except corn BUY CORN EAT CORN have some corn syrup sweetened soda to wash it down and drench their corn flakes.

Corn is EVERYWHERE I am so sick of it.

The epa can shove all this corn talk right up their cornhole

RE: Face punches for all
By YashBudini on 11/15/2012 3:50:59 PM , Rating: 2
Well FIT, you got that urban myth wrong. Grass fed beef is perfectly fine, and ironically, it's corn fed beef that's the problem.

RE: Face punches for all
By djc208 on 11/15/2012 10:12:42 AM , Rating: 2
All true, but what is the cost of all the modifications required to make the car run ethanol reliably? Just another expense in trying to use it.

And while the engine can be designed to run more efficiently on ethanol the question is can the engine be 33% more efficient? From what I've seen, no. Which means you can take out some of the sting but it's still a net loss.

RE: Face punches for all
By marvdmartian on 11/15/2012 1:43:37 PM , Rating: 2
When the farmers, who are in the business to make a profit, turn more crop land to growing corn, and less land to growing other grains, the price of those grains go up as well. So please don't tell us that it doesn't happen!

You obviously don't know anything about how an engine has to be modified for >10% ethanol gasoline, either. Ethanol, while completely innocuous against steel parts, is pretty darn corrosive to aluminum parts it comes in contact with.

Want to guess what a lot of modern engines use for a lot of parts, inside the engine, to cut down on weight?

All those aluminum parts now have to be plated with a metal that will handle the higher ethanol content, AND not corrode because they're in contact with the aluminum. The metal of choice has usually been nickel.....and nickel plating parts doesn't come cheap!

And since the car manufacturers don't make special engines for use only with E85 (thus, the FLEX FUEL designation), we're still driving lower compression engines that get crap for mileage with E85.....generally, 2/3 the MPG you'd get with straight gasoline.

Seriously, do some actual fact checking, before you post your next bunch of drivel, would you?

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