Marita Noon

Requiring the citizens of the kingdom to purchase something that doesn’t exist, and then fining them for not doing it sounds more like the behavior of a tinhorn dictator than the actions of a global superpower—but then, maybe the “superpower” status has led the US government to believe that it can “let the wish be father to the thought.”

Perhaps Congress, the authors of the Clean Air Act, and, more specifically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—and even biofuel lobbyists—have attended too many motivational seminars in which they were taught: “If you can dream it, then you can achieve it.”

The dream to “achieve” is cellulosic biofuel or ethanol—which has an admirable goal of producing a renewable transportation fuel without impacting the world’s food supply. Different from corn- or sugar-based ethanol—which is technologically achievable (with questionable benefits)—cellulosic ethanol is made from wood chips, switchgrass, and agricultural waste, such as corn cobs.

The problem is the dream doesn’t match reality.

Through the Clean Air Act, the EPA can mandate a set volume of cellulosic biofuels that refiners must blend into gasoline based on “the projected volume available.” In 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) established annual renewable fuel volume targets. The “targets” increase each year to reach 36 billion gallons by 2022. The EISA’s original cellulosic biofuel expectation for 2013 was 1 billion gallons.

The targets gave birth to a new cellulosic ethanol industry. Thanks to the government mandates, start-ups such as Range Fuels and Cello Energy were born. They cranked out press releases touting a potential for millions of gallons of the biofuel. Based on optimistic projections aimed at attracting investors, the EPA set its targets.

Marita Noon

Marita Noon is Executive Director of Energy Makes America Great.