Friday, November 30, 2007

EPA Ethanol Mandate: A Joke

Why "mandate" refiners use less ethanol they are already using? Shouldn't a "mandate" require they use more than they already are? Isn't that the point?

Regulators on Tuesday set the new renewable fuels standard of nearly 4.7% for next year to meet a federal mandate that at least 5.4 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into transportation gasoline in 2008.

The standard for 2007 was slightly more than 4 percent, which amounted to roughly 4.7 billion gallons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The volume target increases every year until reaching 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. Why is this a joke? The U.S. currently has 134 operating ethanol plants with a total capacity of 7.2 billion gallons. That means the "mandate" could have been raised another 20% to 30% and current capacity could have easily handled it.

With producers like ADM (ADM) currently undergoing capacity upgrades that will have it producing 1.6 billion gallons itself annually, if congress and the EPA are indeed serious about making a dent in our oil consumption and the strangle hold it has on us, more aggressive target are required. Verasun (VSE) has put expansion on hold chiefly due to uncertainty over Congressional legislation.

The industry is currently subdued after it meteoric rise in early 2006. Unless congress want the inevitable consolidation that will occur, concentrating production in only a few companies, action is required. We are at a crossroads. We have the production available but unless we force refiners like Exxon (XOM), BP (BP) and Chevron (CVX) to use it, they will not as it ultimately threatens them.

Ethanol currently sells for $1.96 a gallon and every car in the US can run on a 10% blend. Currently several states have not yet enacted the 10% blend level and this EPA "mandate" only assures that will not happen anytime soon.

Almost 8 million of autos and trucks can run on the E85 blend. My Suburban can, but I cannot buy the fuel here. Supply it and you can bet I will. I would gladly support an Iowa farmer over a Saudi Shiek and smile while doing it.

Down the road, Konrad Imielinski reports:
"The U.S. House of Representatives could vote on a wide-ranging energy bill next week that would triple the use of ethanol. There is speculation that legislation will require 20.5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015, with 5.5 billion gallons of that coming from cellulosic ethanol. The bill is also speculated to set short-term targets of 9.5 billion gallons by 2008 and 11.6 billion gallons by 2009. Back in June, the Senate passed a proposal to require 36 billion gallons of ethanol use by 2022. Democrats will also attempt to hit the oil industry with $15 billion in taxes and require utilities to get 15 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources."

Congress needs to act and the party that takes the lead may just get credit years from now for saving us from oil. Isn't that enough motivation?

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