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Barack Obama Sells Energy Gimmicks, Not Policy

April 01, 2011

By Robert Bryce

President Barack Obama, during his speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday, condemned politicians for using what he called “slogans and gimmicks” on energy policy. Unfortunately, Obama succeeded only in adding yet more murk to his administration’s own confused energy policies.

To be fair, the president should be praised for two points: He affirmed his support for nuclear energy and he wants to increase use of natural gas.

But Obama’s sudden decision to promote natural gas is a key example of his incoherence on energy.

Recall that it was just two months ago that Obama, during his State of the Union Address, condemned oil — calling it “yesterday’s energy.” He reversed course Wednesday, asserting that the U.S. should be “finding and producing more oil at home.”

That was not the only reversal. He had said America must “eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.” But at Georgetown, he said his administration will “provide new and better incentives that promote rapid, responsible development” of oil and gas. Those incentives could include changes in the royalty structure to “encourage more rapid production.”

Thus, in 60 days, oil went from yesterday’s energy, to a resource we should be producing more of it — as quickly as possible.

In his State of the Union speech, natural gas got just a single mention. At Georgetown, the president mentioned methane nine times.

Obama’s energy incoherence is particularly obvious whenever he talks about biofuels. On Wednesday, he lauded the potential of cellulosic ethanol, a fuel which, despite 90 years of hype, has yet to prove commercial viability. Nonetheless, the president said his administration is helping “break ground on four next-generation biorefineries” that use feedstocks like “switchgrass, wood chips and biomass.”

Perhaps Obama has forgotten about Range Fuels, a company that promised to make ethanol from wood chips. In 2007, Range got a $76 million grant from the federal government. But in January, Range announced it was closing its Georgia plant due to “technical issues.”

Another company riding the cellulosic ethanol hype, Cello Energy, filed for bankruptcy last year.

Despite nine decades of failure, let’s assume that an inventor comes up with a breakthrough in producing alcohol from cellulose. The logistical problems would still be, well, challenging.

Replacing just 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption with ethanol made from cellulose would require a volume of biomass that would fill enough semi-trucks to stretch from the earth to the moon. It would also require planting an area equal to 10 percent of all U.S. cropland.

Even more depressing on the biofuel front is that Obama continues to support the longest-running robbery of U.S. taxpayers in modern history: the corn ethanol scam.

In a document released by the White House on Wednesday, the administration declared that corn ethanol is “making a significant contribution to reducing our oil dependence.” That claim has no basis in fact.

Between 1999 and 2009, U.S. ethanol production increased seven-fold — to more than 700,000 barrels per day. Yet during that same time, America’s oil imports increased by more than 800,000 barrels per day.

Obama has done more to promote the corn ethanol scam than any president in U.S. history. And he continues to — despite the fact that it is driving up food prices.

Right now, 40 percent of U.S. corn — that’s 15 percent of all global corn production or 5 percent of all global grain — is being diverted to ethanol distilleries to produce the energy equivalent of 0.6 percent of global oil needs.

The amount of grain likely to be consumed this year for U.S. ethanol production – 4.9 billion bushels – boggles the mind. That’s more than twice as much as all the corn produced in Brazil; more than six times as much as is grown in India. Put another way, it’s more corn than the output of the European Union, Mexico, Argentina and India combined.

At least 15 studies, including those from Purdue University, the World Bank and the Congressional Research Service, have exposed this link between increasing ethanol production and higher food prices.

The link is so obvious that, just last week, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Swiss food giant Nestlé, denounced corn ethanol as “absurd.” “It is absolutely immoral to push hundreds of millions of people into hunger and into extreme poverty because of such a policy,” Brabeck-Letmathe said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, “so I think – I insist – no food for fuel.”

With regard to slogans, Wednesday was a banner day for Obama. During his speech, the president used his new favorite trope, “clean energy,” a dozen times. He declared that a federal mandate on clean energy would “help drive private investment” and create “an untold number of new jobs.”

Set aside arguments about investment and jobs for the moment. Instead, let’s pose the obvious question: What, exactly, does the president mean by “clean energy”?

No one seems to know. On March 21, the Senate Energy Committee released a “white paper” with a whopping 57 questions that attempt to define clean energy. Among those questions: “What resources should qualify as ‘clean energy?’” as well as how would a federal mandate “contribute to the overall climate change policy” of the U.S.?

The panoply of questions about the meaning of clean energy make it clear that the president’s favorite new phrase is just another happy-sounding political slogan — a bastard stepchild of lines like “energy independence” and “we are addicted to oil.”

If the president wants to formulate meaningful energy policy, here’s a suggestion: Pledge to make energy as cheap, abundant and reliable as possible. That’s what America really needs.

We already have a gusher of energy-related slogans and gimmicks.

Original Source: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52354.html

 

 
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