Posts tagged with: SenatoR Dianne Feinstein

Blog author: lglinzak
Thursday, July 7, 2011
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Political news changes quickly, and now reports are coming out of Washington DC that Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been leading the way in killing the ethanol subsidy and tariff, has struck a deal with Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, two stalwarts for protecting ethanol. While the rumored deal does not indicate the repeal of the blending mandate it is a step in the right direction.

However, while we wait on Congress and the President for action, the Brazilian ethanol industry is eying the U.S. ethanol market. Repealing the tariff will allow Brazil to expand its ethanol industry. Many questions need to be answered before ethanol is imported into the U.S. from Brazil.

In a previous post I posed concerns about whether ethanol can meet both U.S. and Brazilian demands. Furthermore, what are the environmental consequences of ethanol? Reports are showing deforestation in the rainforest. Finally, what will happen to food prices?

It is unfortunate that there are even more questions that need to be answered.

Like the corn based ethanol in the U.S., Brazil’s sugar based ethanol is a false market created by the government. Brazil doesn’t subsidize ethanol; instead it resorts to high taxes. Brazilian gasoline taxes are at 53 percent while the tax placed on ethanol is much lower making ethanol cheaper than gasoline. The question is how long can an industry last and actually be sustainable when it is propped up by the government and is a false market?

It is also important to note that the Brazilian ethanol industry needs a large sum of new investment, about $80 billion worth in the next ten years, to meet global demand. In an industry that is heavily dependent on the government one must wonder, who will pay for these new investments?

Another potential hazard of relying on ethanol is crop shortages. Such crop shortages may occur for a variety of reasons, one of which is out of our control: the weather. What happens when fuel relies on crops, and there is actually a shortage in the harvest? How much of the crop goes to fuel and how much goes to the food supply? Both are important. Food nourishes, however, fuel gets people to their jobs where they earn a salary which they use to purchase food. Brazil may be forced to answer these questions this year as sugarcane production is currently down 25 percent as compared to last year. The lack of production is due to bad weather and aging plants.

However, because of the lack of production sugar prices are on the rise as they saw a 14 percent surge in June. While some are sounding the alarm, other analysts are remaining calm, such as Eli Mamoun Amrouk of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization:

El Mamoun Amrouk, sugar analyst at the Rome-based FAO, said: “It’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen to the sugar price because the market’s so volatile and so any new information can have a big effect on price. The speculation is still there, exacerbating the trend and changes in the dollar also play a part.

“But the signs are that production is growing significantly and, especially in India and Thailand, the prospects are very positive, so we should see the price start coming down in the summer,” he said.

Whether sugar prices do come down or not, we still face a critical question. If we continue to pursue an energy plan based on biofuels, what happens when we do face a shortage in crop production? The world will be faced with not just rising food prices but also with rising fuel prices. How do people in developed countries, who already have a difficult time affording food, feed themselves when the food supply is actually going into the fuel supply?

With rising gas and food prices, ethanol subsidies are getting strict scrutiny. Many have called for the end of ethanol subsidies, and now the Senate is acting. Senators Tom Coburn and Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation that would end ethanol subsidies and repeal the tariff that is placed on foreign ethanol.

The problems with ethanol subsidies have been vast as I’ve pointed out in previous posts including a tax credit for oil companies that blends ethanol with gasoline—even though they are mandated to do it by law. That’s right. Oil companies are being paid to follow the law. Senators Feinstein and Coburn put together a long list of problems associated with ethanol subsidies:

“The ethanol subsidy and tariff is bad economic policy, bad energy policy and bad environmental policy. As our nation faces a crushing debt burden, rising gas prices and the prospect of serious inflation, continuing our parochial ethanol policy that increases the cost of energy and food is irresponsible. I’m pleased to introduce this common sense bill with Senator Feinstein and will push for its consideration at the earliest opportunity,” Dr. Coburn said, noting that the bill has been filed as an amendment (#309) to the small business bill pending in the Senate.

“Ethanol is the only industry that benefits from a triple crown of government intervention: its use is mandated by law, it is protected by tariffs, and companies are paid by the federal government to use it. Ethanol subsidies and tariffs sap our budget, they’re bad for the environment, and they increase our dependence on foreign oil. It’s time we end subsidies that we cannot afford and tariffs that increase gas prices,” Sen. Feinstein said.

And, as the Heritage Foundation states in a recent blog post, this legislation, if passed, will “…fully eliminate the import tariff on ethanol and repeal the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit. This would grant U.S. blenders cheaper inputs, which in effect lowers productions costs and, subsequently, prices.”