Renewable Fuel Standard: The False “Certainty” of a Rigged Market

by Marlo Lewis on May 17, 2014

in Blog, Features

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The Hill (May 16, 2014) reports that almost 8 in 10 U.S. biodiesel producers have cut back production this year. According to a National Biodiesel Board (NBB) survey, 78% of producers reduced output, 57% of companies have idled or shut down plants, and 66% have downsized workforces or are considering it. 

NBB blames the downturn on “uncertainty” over federal biodiesel programs. Specifically:

Almost all of the surveyed companies attribute the industry’s decline to two recent policy developments: the expiration at the end of last year of the tax credit to produce biodiesel and a proposal last year by the Environmental Protection Agency not to increase the biodiesel mandate in the Renewable Fuel Standard.

This, however, is a tacit confession that the biodiesel market is rigged and begins to fall apart as soon as government relaxes its grip on taxpayers and the industry’s involuntary servants.

Two things should be obvious to biodiesel producers.

(1) What the state can giveth the state can taketh away. Everybody has a natural right to compete for willing buyers in the marketplace. Nobody has a natural right to compel others to buy his products. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) fabricates such rights, but entitlements exist at the pleasure of the powers that contrive and administer them. It is foolish to regard RFS blending targets as property rights that can’t be taken from you — especially when the whole system depends on violating the property rights of others, namely refiners, whose facilities the RFS commandeers to process and sell your product!

(2) The RFS is heading for a crackup. The statutory target for 2014 (18.15 billion gallons) exceeds by approximately 3 billion gallons the amount of biofuel that can actually be sold given the size of the U.S. motor fuel market and the incompatibility of most vehicles and retail fueling infrastructure with blends higher than 10% ethanol. This “blend wall” problem will get worse if refiners’ obligations increase in lockstep with the statutory targets while overall motor-fuel demand declines as forecast. When Soviet-style production quota get too far out of whack with actual market conditions, central planners will make adjustments to avoid outright policy failure and political embarrassment. It is foolish to suppose they will sacrifice their careers to protect biofuel producers’ bottom lines.

Naturally, special interests complain when technical or fiscal constraints intrude on their gravy train. But why should the rest us of bail them out?

We would all be better off in the long-run if government stopped trying to pick energy market winners and losers. The RFS is a system of legal plunder and should be abolished.

In his 1850 classic, The Law, Frederic Bastiat asks: How is legal plunder to be identifed? He answers, in part: “See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” A sales rep of any company who forced you to buy its products would go to jail.

The pertinent passage from The Law is reproduced below. The final two paragraphs are an apt commentary on the wailing and whining over EPA’s scaleback of the RFS blending targets.

How to Identify Legal Plunder

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law—which may be an isolated case—is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen.

Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present-day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.

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