In July of 2021, this writer took a little trip through rural Missouri. Besides visiting kinfolk whom I hadn’t seen for far too long, one purpose of my trip was simply to do something else, something different. You see, I’d become something of a recluse and I really needed to just go outside, blow the stink off, maybe even commune with Nature, whatever that is.
My destination was a spot near the center of the northeast quadrant of the state, about a three-hour trip by car. The most expeditious route from Kansas City would be to take I-70 to Columbia and then motor north on US 63 for about an hour. Not really interested in expedience, I chose the scenic route, “a road less traveled,” US 24 to be exact.
Driving eastward on 24, what impressed me was the modern world’s utter dependence on petroleum. Not only was I leisurely tooling along in my 1990 Taurus, which happens to burn gasoline, but everything I surveyed depended on oil. The lawns and pastures of the rural folk were nicely manicured. All that mowing takes a lot of oil, but that’s nothing when compared to the crops, especially the corn.
The corn crop did not look like any corn that this kid could remember. It was lush and tightly packed, dense even. Every field looked like it had been planted and cultivated by the same farmer, maybe some corporation. I’d bet a buck that this corn I drove past was genetically-modified Frankencorn, and totally dependent on high-powered fertilizers. I’ve probably eaten tons of it in the cheap salty corn chips I’m addicted to.
Corn (a.k.a. maize) is used not just as food for people and cattle, it’s also used to produce ethanol, and not just for boozers, but to mix in with our gasoline.
Since 2005, Congress has required oil refineries to add ethanol, mostly from corn, to their gasoline. It’s called the “Renewable Fuel Standard” (RFS). The EPA runs the program. In January, Reuters reported: “EPA will have to decide on the next phase of the program in coordination with the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture. The EPA plans to propose requirements… in May this year.”
Members of Congress should not leave the changing of RFS to some pointy-headed bureaucrat in the administrative state (i.e. the EPA) but should adjust the program themselves. And they should seriously consider ending the program. Or, they might consider an idea floated in “How To Fix The Ethanol Industry” by Robert Rapier at Forbes in 2019.
To understand just how wacky the RFS is, read “Stop the Ethanol Madness” by Mario Loyola, which ran at the Atlantic in November of 2019. Loyola explains how RFS is not only uneconomic but is also destroying the environment. Loyola asserts that “today’s corn-ethanol program is a glaring failure, and it is unconscionable that politicians of both parties are conspiring to keep it alive despite knowing full well what its problems are.”
Ethanol has about one-third less energy than does gasoline. So cars using ethanol get fewer miles per gallon. Flex-fuel vehicles that use E85 get up to 27 percent fewer miles per gallon.