Well, our president raised his magical pen and signed the long-awaited, eagerly anticipated energy bill. Some people will call a leap forward and others will maintain it’s but a step. Congress will say it’s the result of compromise. I call it a sell-out to oil and industry.
OK, so we get to raise the federal standard automakers must meet to 35 mpg for passenger cars, SUVs and small trucks by the year 2020. Today’s standard is 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for SUVs and light trucks.
The bill increases ethanol production from the current 6 billion to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Detractors constantly denounce the use of food grains to make vehicular fuels, citing poor countries that depend on our surpluses, not to mention the poor starving people in the U.S. And they cite rising costs to the consumer, rich and poor alike, because of so much corn being diverted to the ethanol plant.
Farmers who raise corn are happy, the price is up to around $4 a bushel – not bad for a product that brought $2 in 2002. Livestock growers, on the other hand, see their feed costs rise just as our grocery bill is rising. In one of his more lucid moments, the president is quoted as saying, “We understand the hog growers are getting nervous. The price of corn is up.”
Yes sir, nothing like having the Chief of State up to snuff on the price of hog feed.
OK, so I’m not being nice. Make no mistake, I respect the Office of the President of the United States; however, I have little or no respect for the man sitting in it. He’s sold us out environmentally, and forced us into an illegal war. What’s to like?
Now he praises the signing of an energy bill that wouldn’t have gotten this far unless he had gotten his way. Let’s look at that. He threatened a veto unless a $21 billion tax increase for industry and the oil companies was eliminated. Congress did what politicians do, compromise in order to get half a loaf. An almost ironic, or sad note, Congress delivered the legislation to the White House in a gas-hybrid sedan. Not even a blend of ethanol? Tacky.
I’ve witnessed this kind of thing from Congress for decades, so that’s why you hear my sarcasm and rage over the bastardization of a system that was designed “for the people”.
There, now I feel better. Let’s move on to ethanol and the impact this will have on the environment. Corn needs fertilizer, and farmers use a nitrogen-based fertilizer to produce an abundant crop. So far so good, except that the nitrogen runs off the fields into streams that flow into the Mississippi River, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen sinks to the bottom, sucking up the oxygen until it’s gone. As a result, a “dead zone” is growing in the gulf, now some 7,900 miles square, so depleted with oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.
Growing more corn in order to meet the six-fold increased demand in ethanol production promises to have an even deadlier effect on sea life, and commercial fishermen in the gulf.
Meanwhile, some 60 percent of the nation’s agricultural commodities are exported on the Mississippi, and barge owners are seeing the effects of fewer barges loaded with corn. The barge industry has already been suffering from low water levels and other business stresses that can only be exacerbated by fewer downstream shipments of corn.
The bill does carry a provision that would spur the development of ethanol from feedstocks, such as switchgrass and wood chips. However, the infrastructure for biomass conversion is still in development and may take years to implement.
Congress used the bill to phase out a 125 year tradition in this country, the electric light bulb as first introduced by Thomas Edison. Also included were new standards for energy efficiency of appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dishwashers.
No, it wasn’t a complete loss – I just hate to see big money weasel out of paying more taxes. We can only hope the 2008 elections will provide us with legislators, and a chief executive, who are friendly to the environment and not abusive of our constitution.