New Federal Program Kills Jobs, While Costing Taxpayers Half a Billion Dollars

by Hans Bader on January 11, 2010

A federal biofuels program enacted in the name of fighting global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil is instead killing jobs while perhaps doing more harm than good and costing taxpayers half a billion dollars, reports the Washington Post.

“It sounded like a good idea: Provide…government money to convert wood shavings and plant waste into renewable energy.” But it is now killing jobs by “driving up the price of raw timber, undermining an industry that…used sawdust and wood shavings to make affordable cabinetry.”  Meanwhile, “the Biomass Crop Assistance Program…has mushroomed into a half-a-billion dollar subsidy.” It’s a “Biomass Blunder,” says environmental law professor Jonathan Adler.

At least this program isn’t resulting in malnutrition and death, unlike ethanol mandates and subsidies, which cause starvation and unrest in the Third World.  Ron Bailey writes about the “global food crisis” that has resulted in food riots across the world, including countries like Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Yemen, Haiti, and Egypt.  The crisis, he noted, is caused by “stupid energy policies” in the form of ethanol “mandates” and subsidies, which result in the world’s farmers producing less food and more ethanol.

Food rioting spread throughout Haiti in 2008, endangering the government of its “U.S.-backed president”:  “A desperate appeal from the president Wednesday failed to restore order to Haiti’s shattered capital, and bans of looters sacked stores, warehouses, and government offices.”   The government responded with tear gas and bullets, as this video shows. Food riots also occurred in Ivory Coast and El Salvador.

As the Washington Post earlier noted, “the increasing use of land to produce ethanol” “has led demand for food to outstrip supply.”

In the U.S., “The federal government’s love affair with ethanol subsidies drove up food prices, depleted plains-state aquifers, and subsidized the destruction of water fowl habitat.”

For all this cost, ethanol subsidies do not even reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.  Indeed, ethanol subsidies threaten to cause an enormous amount of environmental damage, deforestation, and soil erosion. For this and other reasons, the New York Times advocates getting rid of ethanol subsidies.

Wheat production is down in the world’s breadbaskets, like the United States, as farmland shifts away from wheat to ethanol production.  In Egypt, a major wheat importer, the fall in worldwide wheat production has triggered bread shortages and unrest as poor people find it difficult to get enough to eat.  The unrest is strengthening support for Islamic extremists opposed to Egypt’s relatively pro-American government.

Many Afghans, facing higher food prices, now have little choice but to grow opium to pay for food: the Soviet invasion and occupation destroyed their irrigation works (and roads), making large-scale food production and transport extremely difficult. And when food prices went up in 2006 and 2007 as a result of ethanol mandates and rising demand for food in India and China, thousands of Afghan children starved to death.

Harmful ethanol subsidies and mandates are likely to expand, thanks to Obama and congressional leaders.  In 2008, Obama repeatedly attacked John McCain for opposing ethanol subsidies, which McCain opposed as a form of corporate welfare for powerful corporations like ADM.

Obama backs expanded ethanol subsidies contained in a huge cap-and-trade carbon tax bill that would do little to protect the environment, while costing the economy trillions. The cap-and-trade bill was pushed through the House before its text even became available. The bill was over 1090 pages long and contained special interest giveaways to a legion of big corporations and their lobbyists. At the last minute, 300 more pages were added to the bill that few in Congress had even read, and had to be manually inserted into the existing 1000 pages after the bill was passed, based on guesses about where those pages would fit in. Thus, the bill did not even really exist at the time it was passed.

In 2008, Obama privately admitted to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter that his cap-and-trade carbon tax would cause people’s electric bills to “skyrocket.” The cap-and-trade bill supported by Obama would lead to big tax increases, administration officials privately have conceded, even though they publicly claim otherwise. “Officials at the Treasury Department think cap-and-trade legislation would cost taxpayers hundreds of billion in taxes, according to internal documents circulated within the agency and provided to the Washington Times” by CEI. It could raise household taxes by $1761 per year, equivalent to a 15 percent tax increase. It would also result in “loss of steel, paper, aluminum, chemical, and cement manufacturing jobs.”

The cap-and-trade bill will do little to cut greenhouse gas emissions, since it contains so many special interest giveaways and environmentally-destructive provisions like subsidies for ethanol.  Instead, notes the Examiner, it will result in massive destruction of the Earth’s forests.  Although the bill’s supporters claim it will cut greenhouse gas emissions, it may perversely increase them by driving industry overseas to places where there are fewer air pollution curbs, resulting in dirtier air.

Meanwhile, Obama has thwarted more use of nuclear energy, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, by blocking use of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste disposal site after billions of dollars in taxpayer money had already been spent developing it.

In other news, a $75 billion Obama mortgage bailout program is actually harming the economy, the housing market, and the construction industry, economists and real estate experts say.  Nobel-Prize winning economist Gary Becker says that Obama’s policies in general are harming the economy.  The $800 billion stimulus package has failed to stem rising unemployment, while reducing the size of the economy over the long run.

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