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Everyone who thinks Big Oil should get $31 billion from U.S. taxpayers, please sign on the dotted line

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New Ad Slams Ethanol Tax Credit Give Away to Oil Companies
Tagged with: big oil, ethanol, RFS, VEETC
Posted by Nathanael Greene on Thursday, June 24, 2010

Everyone who thinks Big Oil should get $31 billion from U.S. taxpayers, please sign on the dotted line. That’s the message of a new ad running today in Congress Daily sponsored by NRDC, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Friends of the Earth and the Clean Air Task Force. The ad highlights the wastefulness and redundancy of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), which amounts to little more than a massive government bribe to oil companies to get them to buy and blend gallons of corn ethanol they are already required to purchase under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

As I’ve discussed here and here, corn ethanol is a mature technology that has been commercially viable for decades and today provides nearly 10 percent of light-duty vehicle fuel in the United States. Though the ethanol industry argues that the VEETC is critical to its survival, the reality is that most of the VEETC value ends up in the pockets of oil companies as profit.

So why has Old Ethanol mounted a massive lobbying campaign pushing Congress to extend the VEETC? Multiple independent analyses (see the blogs above) show that the ethanol industry will continue to grow without the tax credit, just at slightly slower rates. But corn ethanol producers have built out their industry to supply the additional gallons of ethanol oil companies purchase beyond RFS mandates as a result of the tax credit. So now this mainstream industry is asking American taxpayers to continue spending billions per year just so they can keep their market a little tighter and their profits a little higher.

And what do we tax payers get in exchange for these billions of dollars? Not much besides more greenhouse gas emissions, more of the water pollution that has caused a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico as large as the BP oil spill, higher prices for the corn soil in our stores and fed to our livestock, and more deforestation, as I discussed here. The ad drives this point home by telling taxpayers not to be fooled by the name of the subsidy: it’s not about creating new or cleaner ethanol. The VEETC almost exclusively supports ethanol from corn, which, when all direct and indirect costs are added, creates more global warming pollution than the oil it is supposed to replace!

No matter how you slice it, the VEETC is a massive giveaway to Big Oil for obeying the law that buys us little to nothing in terms of new jobs, environmental performance or even additional domestic ethanol production beyond the quantities already mandated by the RFS. And by subsidizing the best and worst gallons of ethanol, the tax credit comes at the expense of developing new and cleaner biofuels, such as those made from dedicated “energy crops” like willow and switchgrass, which I’ve talked about here.

We can and should support ethanol producers who open new plants, create new jobs, produce more advanced biofuels more efficiently and deliver real environmental benefits—but not by continuing to use scarce taxpayer dollars to pay for every single gallon of ethanol produced at decade-old plants. We can do better by supporting emerging and more competitive energy technologies in non-polluting wind, solar, geothermal and advanced biofuels that create many more times the green jobs we need and far less pollution. Now is the time for Congress to stop subsidizing Big Oil and Old Ethanol and allow the corn ethanol tax credit and tariff to expire at year-end.
Check out the map of the oil spill and the 2009 hypoxic zone in today’s New York Times. As I mentioned in my last blog, the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer. As this map shows, the dead zone at least as large as the oil spill and it takes a huge toll on the marine life and region’s economy every summer. With about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution.

Given the double whammy that corn ethanol and oil impose on the Gulf coast, it is particularly ironic that corn ethanol’s top priority is extending a tax credit–the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit–that lines the pockets of the oil industry and corn ethanol to the tune of $5.4 billion per year. And in exchange for this huge give away, what do we get beyond oil spills and dead zones? As I’ve written about before, not much. NRDC has proposed a Greener Biofuels Tax Credit, but the reality is that just about anything else we might do with these billions of tax dollars would be better for jobs, energy security and for the Gulf.

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About pfiddle

Fiddle teacher - mostly Irish trad. Fiddle, mandolin and concertina. Eco-warrior, won E.U. Green Flower Award for Eco Accommodation. Also Irish (Gold) GHA. Green Hospitality Award. Mad keen on self-build - especially straw-bale and cob. 55 with a full head of (slightly) graying hair. No tattoos or piercings. Fond of animals - but legally so. Fond of food - I eat nothing else. Vegetarian by choice, Irish by the grace of birth, Munster by force of (rugby) arms.

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