February 2009

Marlo made three interesting arguments yesterday contending that cap-and-trade would generate protectionist outcomes. I want to add another, pervasive, yet oft-neglected reason.

Environmental regulation spurs the businesses who feel cheated to lobby for other forms of protectionism for their industries. This is a very different mechanism from Marlo’s identification of particular measures with protectionist policies. It doesn’t matter what the content of the regulation is; as long as businesses perceive it as hurting them, they will lobby for and get protectionist measures to help them in other ways. Just think what the auto industry would do if Congress tried to increase CAFE significantly or require drivers or manufacturers to buy carbon credits; they’d probably log-roll and get tarriffs against foreign manufacturers as part of the package deal. Something for you, something for me, less for the consumer.

There is good empirical support for this proposition. Western Washington University economist Steven Globerman made the argument back in 1999, hidden within a broader book arguing that trade is actually good for the environment.

Globerman noted that “lobby groups will use environmental issues to extract protection against imports.” And they will generally win. “Governments in high enforcement countries can and will invoke trade remedy laws, particularly countervailing duties, against exporters in weak enforcement 

countries.” The log-rolling takes place internationally as well. If we give into the EU’s demand to join a climate regime, we may be able to get acquiesence in our new protectionist measures.

We don’t want “significantly higher risks of trade wars tied to escalating retaliation for specific environmental practices.” As economist and MP Michael Spicer put it in his 1996 book The Challenge from the East and the Rebirth of the West, “if the stability of the world is to be assured it must be through the spread of free trade.”

Yes, for three reasons.

(1) Companies in carbon-constrained countries will demand carbon tariffs to “level the playing field” vis-a-vis firms in non-carbon constrained countries.

(2) Cheating will be rampant unless deterred and punished by credible trade sanctions.

(3) The EU-IPCC-Al Gore goal of achieving a 50% reduction in global emissions by mid-century is impossible absent deep emission cuts in developing countries, which in turn won’t happen unless developing countries are bullied into limiting their consumption of coal and oil.

For further discussion, see my post on Masterresource.Org.

In today’s Guardian, Juliana Glover reports that carbon permit prices in Europe’s Emission Trading System (ETS) have crashed from €31 last summer to €8 today. This price is too low to create any incentive for covered entities to invest in ‘green’ technology.

Glover identifies two causes for the collapse of carbon permit prices. First, the recession has reduced demand for energy and, thus, for carbon permits. Second, European governments handed out “luxurious quantities” of carbon permits, free of charge, to big emitters, claiming that economic growth “would soon see them bumping against the ceiling.”

Glover says the EU must do two things to rescue the ETS:

First, the EU must stop importing permits from countries such as Russia–a bonus for a paper transaction. No one really believes that 15m tonnes of imported permits will not be emitted by a steelworks somewhere east of Novosibirsk.

Second, it must publish plans to crack down on the surplus of permits when the recession is over. Warnings of famine ahead, when the scheme enters its third stage in 2012, would raise prices now, if believed.

She concludes caustically: “Like medieval pardoners handing out unlimited indulgences, governments have created a glut. Reformation must follow. Wanted–a modern Martin Luther to nail a shaming truth to industry’s door: Europe’s whiz-bang carbon market is turning sub-prime.”

Glover’s commentary vindicates free-market critics (see, e.g., here, here, and here) who have warned that Europe’s vaunted ETS is an unsavory combination of wealth transfer and creative accounting.

My concern is what lessons if any climate doomsters here in the United States draw from Europe’s failure.

Most U.S. greens prefer cap-and-trade to carbon taxes. Part of the reason is political. Most voters oppose new taxes, but most do not understand that cap-and-trade schemes are stealth energy taxes.

Greens also argue that only cap-and-trade (a) provides “emissions certainty” (determines in advance how much and how fast emissions will decline) and (b) creates strong incentives for firms to innovate and go “beyond compliance” in order to amass and sell surplus carbon permits (transferring wealth from buyers to sellers).

But the collapse of the carbon market calls in question both alleged policy advantages of cap-and-trade. Europe’s ETS is exerting no pressure to reduce emissions in today’s distressed economy, whereas a carbon tax mostly certainly would. Moreover, the ETS is fostering creative accounting, not innovation.

While it would be premature to say that the cap-and-trade lobby is losing its clout on the Hill, it is interesting that Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently floated the idea of a carbon tax. It is also noteworthy that NASA’s James Hansen, the doyen of global warming alarmism, cautioned President-elect Obama last December that, “A carbon cap that makes one more stinking millionaire on the backs of the public is going to infuriate the public.” Hansen argued that, “A carbon tax (across all fossil fuels at their source) is essential.”

Given the Administration’s apparent determination to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) under the Clean Air Act (CAA), we could possibly see growing support within green circles for a combination of carbon taxes and CAA regulation of CO2 from autos and large stationary sources.

Of course, this would take all the fun and profit out of global warming for the corporations pursuing European-style wealth transfers and windfall profits under cap-and-trade.

So, liberty lovers be warned: We could end up with cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and CAA controls on CO2. As Al Gore said at his March 2007 Senate Environment and Public Works hearing, “We need it all.”

The ultra powerful enviro-lobby has a big problem: So far, it hasn’t been able to convince the Congress to enact energy-rationing policies to fight “global warming” (I am using quotation marks because it hasn’t warmed in 7 years, despite a steady increase in global greenhouse gas emissions).

Last year, a bi-partisan group of Senators spurned a cap-and-trade scheme written by California Senator Barbara Boxer’s staff because they couldn’t countenance imposing higher energy costs on their constituents at a time when gas cost $4/gallon. Given current economic woes, a cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme is even more unlikely to make it through the Congress.

Faced with this political and economic reality, the eviros have adopted a new strategy. They want to pull an end run around Congress by having the executive branch regulate green house gases without a legislative mandate.

It’s a complicated process, but here’s the gist: They are trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to find that greenhouse gas emissions are “pollutants” that “endanger” public welfare, a ruling that automatically results in regulation under the Clean Air Act. This is not a good thing. As noted by my colleague Marlo Lewis, if the EPA were to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, it would result in a regulatory nightmare.

The EPA simply could declare that greenhouse gases endanger public welfare, but there are also a number of circuitous pathways by which the green lobby could force the EPA’s hand.  In today’s DC Examiner, former CEI Warren Brooks Fellow Jeremy Lott and I have an opinion piece that explains one such round-about route to a regulatory nightmare-the California tailpipe emissions waiver.

A sample:

If the EPA allows California to regulate greenhouse gases from automobiles, it will tacitly acknowledge that greenhouse gases are “pollutants” — and under the Clean Air Act anything considered a pollutant is automatically subject to regulation. Environmental groups will be sure to have their lawyers sue the EPA to make this explicit.

Once greenhouse gases are classified as a “pollutant,” big construction projects (power plants, high schools, apartment buildings, hospitals) will be delayed and perhaps halted while federal regulators try to decide whether they comply with the Clean Air Act. New construction jobs? Forget about it.

Before the EPA takes this drastic step, shouldn’t our nation’s representatives in Congress debate and vote on whether to substitute this California regulation for federal law? Environmentalists don’t think so.

Rather than have Congress deliberate, the environmental groups want the courts to decide. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and other well-funded, litigation-happy green groups think the California waiver is a dream come true.

Click here to read the rest.


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In the News

Don’t Count on ‘Countless’ Green Jobs
Max Schulz, Wall Street Journal, 20 February 2009

Will Lisa Jackson Turn the Clean Air Act into a De-Stimulus Package?
Marlo Lewis, Globalwarming.org, 19 February 2009

Debate Heats Up as Climate Cools Down
S. Fred Singer, Investor’s Business Daily, 18 February 2009

Obama’s Climate Plan Could Trigger a Trade War
Mark Drajem and Catherine Dodgem, Bloomberg, 20 February 2009

Take Climate Change Off the Agenda
Chris Horner and Maureen Bader, Financial Post, 18 February 2009

Gore’s Global Warming Riff Keeps Melting
Chris Horner, Human Events, 18 February 2009

Is Obama Planning To Sneak Kyoto Past Congress?
Chris Horner, the Federalist Society Policy Series, 16 February 2009

So What Does He Think of a Cap-and-Trade?
Iain Murray, Open Market, 20 February 2009

The War on Coal
Alan Caruba, Warning Signs, 18 February 2009

Thomas Edison to Henry Ford: Forget Electric Cars
Robert Bradley, Master Resource, 19 February 2009

News You Can Use

Leading Alarmist Defers Crisis to 2040

Sir John Houghton, Britain’s leading global warming alarmist and lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessment reports, told an interviewer recently that major effects of global warming will not be seen for 20 to 30 years. Apparently, Sir John has not heard from Al Gore, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, NASA’s James Hansen, and President Obama’s pick for White House Science Adviser, Dr. John P. Holdren, that the impacts of global warming are they’re here, they’re now, and boy are they big.

Inside the Beltway

CEI’s Myron Ebell

EPW Stacks the Deck Against Common Sense

The good news is that the Congress is not in session this week.  But they’re back next week. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has scheduled a hearing at 10 AM EST on Wednesday, 25th February, titled, “Update on the Latest Global Warming Science.”  The first witness will be Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  Pachauri is an engineer and economist.  He regularly misrepresents climate science and smears scientists who disagree with the alarmist consensus that the IPCC supposedly represents.  Among the other witnesses, the witness invited by the Republican minority is Dr. William Happer.  He is Professor of Physics at Princeton University.  Notably, the Clinton Administration fired Happer in 1993 from his position as Director of Energy Research at the Department of Energy for disagreeing in public with then-Vice President Al Gore’s alarmist views on global warming.  The hearing should be available at the committee’s web site for viewing online.

EPA Reconsiders

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has been making news this week with announcements about re-considering decisions taken by her Bush Administration predecessor, Stephen Johnson.  On Tuesday, EPA announced that Jackson would grant a petition from the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council to re-consider a memo from Johnson that stated that federal officials could not consider greenhouse gas emissions when deciding whether to permit new coal-fired power plants.

Jackson also told the New York Times in an interview published Wednesday that she has directed EPA staff to prepare the paperwork for a finding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and safety and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Press reports suggest that she will make the endangerment finding by early April.  As my colleagues Marlo Lewis and Chris Horner noted in their official comments submitted to EPA this fall, regulating carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act would be a regulatory nightmare that would cause an economic train wreck.

At the end of the week, Greenwire reported that EPA has sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review a draft rule that would create a mandatory registry of greenhouse gas emissions.  The Bush Administration failed to finalize a rule before it left office that would have improved and expanded the current voluntary registry.

Around the World

CEI’s Myron Ebell

Obama Goes to Canada

President Barack Obama visited Ottawa on Thursday to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Press reports suggested that they papered over disagreements on global warming policy and on oil production from the Alberta tar sands.

Canada is the United States’s major foreign supplier of oil, and more and more of it is synthetic oil produced from the tar sands.  However, the anti-energy bill enacted in 2007 requires the federal government to begin to buy petroleum products that meet a “low-carbon fuel standard.”  Since it takes a lot of energy to mine the tar sands and heat them up to liquefy the oil and since most of the energy used to do that comes from natural gas and coal, it’s unlikely that oil from the tar sands can meet this looming federal standard.  Since you can’t segregate types of oil once they are in put in the pipeline, the effect of the low carbon fuel standard could be to ban imports of oil from the tar sands.

Obama said before going to Ottawa that new technology was the answer.  He and Harper agreed to engage in a “clean energy dialogue” and to work together on global warming.  Problem deferred.

Across the States

Western Climate Initiative

Seven States (Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) and four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec) last year agreed to participate in a regional cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme called the Western Climate Initiative. A cap-and-trade scheme is designed to raise energy costs, yet proponents of WCI, such as California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), claim that it will help the economy. Businessmen and economists, however, disagree. This week the Western Business Roundtable released a report showing that the WCI will chase business out of participating States by raising energy costs. According to the report, the WCI would impose a $2,300 cap-and-trade tax on the average family in participating States by 2020.

Your tax dollars at work–$139 per ton of carbon dioxide

CEI’s Julie Walsh

In this video, Dr James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, advocates civil disobedience at a protest scheduled to be held in front of the Congress’s coal-fired power plant on March 2nd. His goal presumably is to force a shift in the plant’s fuel mix away from coal in order to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

Such activism is not new for Hansen. Last summer in the UK, a group of Greenpeace supporters trespassed on to a coal-fired power station and started vandalizing it. They were arrested and prosecuted. Their defense witnesses included James Hansen. They were found not guilty.

Here are the facts concerning such a possible shift. The Capitol power plant currently uses 10% fuel oil, 47% coal, and 43% natural gas. A June 2008 GAO study found that with a minor shift to 60% natural gas, 31% coal and with fuel oil staying the same:

“The fuel switching should cost about $1.4 million in fiscal year 2008 and could range from between $1.0 and $1.8 million depending on actual fuel costs, among other factors….Our May 2008 report also found that decreasing the plant’s reliance on coal could decrease greenhouse gas emissions by about 9,970 metric tons per year at an average cost of $139 per ton.”

That’s because as a GAO study published in May 2008 concluded: “Currently, natural gas costs about four times more than coal per British thermal unit.”

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–fouxXwKB0 285 234]

Good news and bad news for drivers from federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The good news is:

LaHood said he firmly opposes raising the federal gasoline tax in the current recession.

The bad news is that, because people are using less gas as they switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles and just plain drive less, LaHood is thinking of taxing us according to how many miles we drive – a VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) Tax. Now in some ways, this is a more equitable taxation scheme to fund road maintenance than the gas tax – it’s more reflective of the amount you use the road – and is therefore less objectionable, especially if it replaces rather than supplements the gas tax. However, it comes with a host of ramifications.

Most seriously, it will entail government surveillance of our driving habits. So there are obvious civil liberty concerns. Older Britons – and not so old – will remember the government asking them, “Is your journey really necessary?” This will give the government the chance to ask that question more directly.

More generally, the tax may be self-defeating. It will serve as a disincentive to drive, thereby reducing the amount it raises. For those who have to drive long distances, because they have a long commute or because their job requires it in other ways, it will also serve as a burden on economic activity (although perhaps no more than the current gas tax). Environmentalists may worry that it will reduce the incentive to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles. While this would probably be a good thing in terms of road safety, environmentalists are not ones to let 2000 deaths a year get in the way of their war on oil, so my betting is that the VMT tax will, in fact, supplement a gas tax, putting your journey in double jeopardy.

Finally, if the Secretary is so opposed to a gas tax, what does he think of cap-and-trade of greenhouse gas emissions, which will be functionally equivalent to a gas tax? That’s administration policy. So it looks like the Secretary is actually in favor of a gas tax, as long as we don’t call it that.

UPDATE: I meant to include a few words about an even better idea. The redoubtable Jerry Taylor has instead done it for me at The Corner: T

hat said, there is an even better reform — get rid of federal gasoline taxes altogether and send all road construction and maintenance programs back to the states. All the bridges to nowhere, all the Robert Byrd memorial thises and thats, all the corruption associated with log-rolling transportation earmarks in Congress . . . all goes away. Alas, not even the late, great President George W. Bush dared entertain such an idea, and with all roads to recovery thought to come out of some shovel-ready highway somewhere, LaHood most certainly won’t go there.

Earlier this week, in a letter to Sierra Club climate council David Bookbinder, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Agency would reconsider, via a notice-and-comment rulemaking, a Bush-EPA memorandum interpreting regulations that determine whether carbon dioxide (CO2) is currently subject to emission controls under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program.

The memorandum, issued on December 18, 2008 by Jackson’s predecessor, Stephen Johnson, responds to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) decision in a dispute between EPA Region 8 and the Sierra Club. Region 8 granted Deseret Electric Power Cooperative a PSD permit to build a new coal electric generating unit near Bonanza, Utah. Like all other PSD permits issued in the program’s history, this one did not require the regulated entity to install best available control technology (BACT) to limit CO2 emissions. Sierra Club argued that EPA regulations adopted in 1993, which require power producers to monitor and report CO2 emissions, make CO2 a regulated pollutant for PSD purposes. Region 8 countered that it has no power to apply PSD or BACT to CO2, because EPA has consistently interpreted “subject to regulation” to mean subject to emission controls. The 1993 rules require data collection and reporting, not emissions control.

The EAB disagreed with Sierra Club in part, and with Region 8 in part. Contrary to Sierra Club, “subject to regulation” does not have an unambiguous meaning that compels EPA to impose a CO2 BACT standard in a PSD permit. But, contrary to Region 8, EPA is not bound by the Agency’s historic interpretation to apply PSD only to pollutants for which EPA currently administers emission controls. The EAB asked EPA to clarify the meaning of “subject to regulation” in the context of an action of “nationwide scope.” That’s what Johnson did in his December 18, 2008 memorandum.

The reason this is important, even if you don’t live in Bonanza, Utah, is that applying PSD to CO2 could have a chilling effect on new construction and economic development throughout the nation. As explained here, here, and here, the cutoff for regulating business entities as “major stationary sources” under the PSD program is a potential to emit 250 tons per year (TPY) of a CAA-regulated air pollutant. An estimated 1.2 million previously unregulated buildings and facilities actually emit 250 TPY of CO2. All would be vulnerable to new controls, paperwork, and penalties if courts deem CO2 “subject to regulation” under the CAA.

Before any firm could build or modify, for example, a large commercial office building, enclosed mall, or big box store, it would have to obtain a PSD permit, which means it would have to undertake a complex investigation of how to comply with BACT (see pp. B6-9 of EPA’s New Source Review Workshop Manual). Even apart from any technology investments required for BACT compliance, the PSD permitting process is costly and time-consuming. In 2007, each PSD permit on average cost $125,120 and 866 burden hours to obtain.

EPA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) estimates that even a ten-fold increase in PSD permitting from 200-300 permits per year to 2,000-3,000 permits “could overwhelm permitting authorities” and subject firms to “new costs, uncertainty, and delay in obtaining their permits to construct.” Yet if firms seek to modify just 1% of the 1.2 million entities that currently emit 250 TPY of CO2, EPA and its state counterparts would have to process 12,000 PSD permits per year. The costs, delays, and uncertainties produced by this administrative quagmire would bring economic development to a halt.

Johnson’s memorandum makes a strong case for the lawfulness of EPA’s historic interpretation that PSD and BACT are triggered only by emission control requirements established under other provisions, not by monitoring and reporting regulations. I find particularly impressive Johnson’s argument that Sierra Club’s reading of the Act would make nonsense of CAA §114, which authorizes the Administrator to require entities to gather and report emissions data to inform policy development. If EPA took the position that monitoring and reporting regulations automatically trigger PSD and BACT, then “the mere act of gathering the information would essentially dictate the result of the decision that the information is being gathered to inform (whether or not to require control of a pollutant).” Johnson remarks: “I prefer an interpretation that allows the Agency to first assess whether there is a justification for controlling emissions of a particular pollutant under relevant criteria in the Act.”

Attorney Peter Glaser put the point more forcefully in an amicus brief on behalf CEI and 13 other free-market groups. In the Deseret case, Sierra Club wanted the EAB to mandate CO2 regulation under PSD and BACT even though the EPA Administrator had not determined (and still has not determined) whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. This regulate first, do the analysis later (if ever) approach would stand the logic of the CAA on its head.

Johnson’s memorandum accomplished two things. First, it averted a “PSD nightmare”—at least on his watch. Second, as an Aiken Gump analysis astutely observed, the only way Johnson’s successor could overturn his “interpretative rule” would be through a notice and comment rulemaking. Jackson’s decision to reconsider Johnson’s memorandum via a rulemaking seems to confirm that assessment.

Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and Natural Resources Defense Council sued EPA last month in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asking the court to overturn Johnson’s memo. But, as Greenwire reported on February 17, when the deadline came, the groups declined to file a motion to “stay” the memo, or put it on hold. Greenwire explains: “If the agency were to stay the memo immediately, Bookbinder said, it could trigger an obligation under the Clean Air Act for broad-ranging regulations targeting even very small sources of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Bookbinder commented: “The Clean Air Act has language in there that is kind of all or nothing if CO2 gets regulated, and it could be unbelievably complicated and administratively nightmarish for both EPA and the states if they were to yank the Johnson memo and not have something in place that makes it clear that we’re going after only the very large sources.”

This is quite remarkable. At a September 23, 2008 hearing before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee (see segments 1:47:10-1:48:22 and 2:03:83-2:05:20 of the Committee’s Archive Webcast), Bookbinder derided as a “bugaboo,” “red herring,” and “pure scare tactic” warnings by industry and free-market groups that establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for new motor vehicles under CAA §202 would expose tens of thousands of previously unregulated stationary sources to PSD and BACT regulation. Yet now he acknowledges that, if applied to CO2, the PSD program could morph into an “unbelievably complicated and nightmarish” affair.

To be sure, Bookbinder thinks it’s possible for EPA, in a rulemaking, to make “clear we’re going after only very large sources.” But as a matter of law, EPA has no authority to pretend that a statutory cutoff set at 250 TPY really means 10,000 TPY, 25,000 TPY, or 100,000 TPY. Furthermore, although neither the Sierra Club nor any other major environmental group would sue EPA to insist on a strict letter-of-the-law application of PSD to CO2, the major environmental groups do not have a monopoly on CAA litigation. Applying PSD to small CO2 sources would empower legions of NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) activists to block or delay construction of strip malls, big box stores, fast food restaurants, or other development they deem undesirable.

Lisa Jackson needs to understand that she cannot rescind Johnson’s interpretation and make CO2 a pollutant “subject to regulation” under PSD without running the very serious risk of turning the Clean Air Act into a gigantic de-stimulus package.

I have been a steak snob ever since I apprenticed under a master butcher in Ojai Valley, California a few years back. Indeed, I’m the kind of guy who orders his steak so rare that the people dining at the table next to me get uncomfortable.

So it is with rising dread that I witness the greenies’ assault on the beef industry. Enviro-types have long hated cattlemen for treating cows like animals, but recently, they’ve found a new motive to attack providers of delicious red meat: climate change.

According to the latest in the “It’s easy being green” series run by the Center for American Progress, “it’s worth taking a closer look” at beef production, for “the planet’s sake,” because industrial scale livestock farming has a big carbon footprint. The piece references a 2006 study that compares “a Toyota Prius, which uses about one fourth as much as fuel as a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, to a plant-based diet, which uses roughly one-fourth as much energy as a diet rich in red meat.”

How about a steak tax, America? After all, the greens put gas-guzzling SUV’s (God bless ‘em) in their cross-hairs, and came out on top-they forced through new fuel efficiency regulations that have saddled an ailing Detroit with a $100 billion burden. Can the cattleman be far behind?

Yesterday’s edition of the Internet news juggernaut, The Huffington Post, ran an ethanol love song written by Bob Dinneen, who is identified in his HuffPo biography as “the ethanol industry’s lead lobbyist before the Congress and Administration.”

Given that Mr. Dinneen is a professional shill, there’s no need to repeat his self-serving argument. Whatever is his case for ethanol, the bottom line is his bottom line.  But it is worth saying a few things about the reality of ethanol.

Ethanol is touted as a solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil.  It is true that ethanol—an alcohol distilled from corn—can be used to run cars.  “Can,” however, does not mean “should.”  Indeed, ethanol is a bad idea both economically and environmentally.

For starters, ethanol is twice as expensive as gasoline, so filling your car with ethanol raises your fuel bill. Also, by turning corn, which is usually used food, into fuel, demand for food increases.  So, increased ethanol use raises your food bill too. Finally, ethanol is awful for the environment—it results in increased corn cultivation, which leads to greater nitrogen runoff, which causes massive, oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in our streams, lakes, rivers and oceans.

Yet Americans are forced to buy ethanol thanks to laws written by the ultra-powerful corn and agribusiness lobbies.  Ethanol makes corn growers and ethanol producers rich, so they have spent millions lobbying legislators to pass (1) generous taxpayer subsidies for ethanol production, and (2) a Soviet-style production quota that forces Americans to use a certain percentage of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply (last year, Americans were forced to buy 9 billion gallons of corn fuel).

So why is the Huffington Post pimping the ethanol boondoggle when so many others have stopped supporting these corrupt programs?

King corn and its agribusiness allies could never convince Americans to buy ethanol; instead, they convinced Congress to force ethanol on consumers. The industry’s existence is a powerful testament to lobbyists’ ability to rig the rules of the game to enrich their clients at the expense of everyday Americans—a tacit endorsement from the Huffington Post can only help the ethanol lobby continue to do so.

Huff Po is generally a well-done publication, so why run a pitch by a guy who is trying to get rich by screwing the consumer? Since when are greedy lobbyists palatable to the left?