Fixing a boondoggle

On Monday, more than 50 House Republicans asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce required ethanol production this year, saying a law requiring a fixed amount of corn liquor be blended into gasoline sold at the pump will boost already high corn prices in the wake of recent Midwestern floods.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a significant factor in the increased cost of commodities, which is causing severe economic harm for low-income Americans and livestock producers," the 51 lawmakers, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

"The (Bush) administration can immediately impact the supply of corn that will be used for food and feed and lessen the severe economic harm facing millions of Americans," Rep. Goodlatte and the others wrote.

Back in April, Texas Gov. Rick Perry already asked the EPA to cut by half a requirement in last year's energy law to produce 9 billion gallons of ethanol to blend into gasoline this year. That'll use up 30 percent to 35 percent of the nation's corn crop, the Agriculture Department says.

Corn prices have surged more than 80 percent in the past year due to sharp increases in global demand to feed people and livestock while diverting that much corn into motor fuel -- a fuel so expensive it would never be used without the government mandate.

Recent flooding in the Midwest and drought in the South will make things only worse, reducing this year's corn crop by 9 percent, the Agriculture Department said.

A loophole in the 2005 energy law allows individual states to seek a reduction in the amount of corn being diverted into highway fuels if they can show it will harm the economy or the environment.

The obvious "disconnect" here is that the 51 sensible folks thus calling for a reduction in the amount of American-grown corn being distilled into alcohol and mixed into motor fuel -- as opposed to being used to feed hungry people and livestock -- are what we like to call "members of Congress," while the absurd edict they're asking EPA chief Johnson to relax was originally imposed on his agency by, um ... Congress.

So, why don't the 51 just recruit an additional 211 of their colleagues to join them in repealing the whole darned boondoggle?

As Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute reported in the Chicago Sun-Times 17 months ago, "A review of the literature by Australian academic Robert Niven found that, when evaporative emissions are taken into account, E10 (fuel that's 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, the standard mix) increases emissions of total hydrocarbons, nonmethane organic compounds, and air toxics compared to conventional gasoline. The result is greater concentrations of photochemical smog and toxic compounds."

In other words, ethanol increases air pollution.

The answer is to repeal the ethanol boondoggle, completely. And then take away from this debacle an important lesson: The next time someone proposes Congress use its power to meddle in any other aspect of the self-regulating free market, the members should re-read Col. Crockett's account of his encounter with Horatio Bunce and then ask aloud, "I have here Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. This section is only a few hundred words. Can anyone show me where it gives us the power to decide how much of anything should be manufactured, and what it should cost, and then give the people orders as to how much of it they're required to consume?"