George W. Bush proposed a renewable fuels agreement between the United States and Brazil, a fact that has largely gone ignored by the mainstream media. A March 9, 2007 press release from the National Farmers Union explains why there is far more to this proposal than making nice to our Latin American neighbors:
(An agreement with Brazil) could have a negative impact on family farmers, ranchers and American taxpayers. The partnership could allow foreign ethanol investors to receive U.S. tax subsidies to increase consumption and production of ethanol, while directly competing with U.S. production of ethanol.
If there’s one endeavor Americans still excel in when it comes to competing in the worldwide marketplace, it’s making productive use of it’s greatest natural resource, our vast expanses of fertile land. As long as Bush wises up on global warming, America will be able to produce renewable fuels long after every drop of oil is wrung from the earth.
Biofuels can be made from annual crops like corn, which is problematic because it requires fuel to plant every year, and from perennial crops like switchgrass ((which also has its critics). Just as the United States has a strategic oil reserve, and has stored foodstuffs for human consumption during years of short supply due to drought, we can have a reserve of crops used to manufacture ethanol. Farmers often keep a third of their land fallow as they rotate their crops. Some of this land could be used to grow perennial crops like switchgrass and other cellulosic biomass crops (More information) which can be used for makng ethanol, harvested, and stored for later use.
Given the proper push by the government, does anybody doubt that car manufacturers can design engines to run on a greater and greater percentage of ethanol? *
I doubt Bush will demand this. What can we expect from a president who hasn’t met a big oil executive whose Armani suit or princely while linen robes and kaffiyehs he wouldn’t dutifully brush lint off? Putting the interests of our farmers, and ultimately our taxpayers, and our national interest first may be too much to ask when it may conflict with the interests of Big Oil.
Here’s what National Farmers Union President Tom Buis has to say about Bush’s proposal:
"Transferring the United States’ addiction on foreign oil to foreign biofuels doesn’t make sense. America’s family farmers and ranchers are prepared to meet the challenge President Bush set in his State of the Union address to increase our country’s use of renewable fuels. Using U.S. taxpayer dollars to encourage new ethanol production in foreign countries will only directly compete with production right here at home. Instead, we should be investing our resources in building our own domestic renewable fuels capacity. This agreement is the wrong step in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
"Decreasing our reliance on foreign oil while increasing our reliance on foreign biofuels is the wrong move when attempting to become energy independent. Ethanol production is the only sector in agriculture that has seen a decrease of consolidation, a direct result of farmer-owned biofuels production facilities. We should not jeopardize this achievement by having U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for foreign-owned biofuel production.
"It is additionally troubling to see press reports that this new pact will open the door for foreign ethanol producers to by-pass the 54-cent-per-gallon ethanol tariff by simply importing Brazilian sugarcane and processing it in the Caribbean, which is exempt from the tariff. The current tariff ensures U.S. taxpayer dollars do not subsidize foreign-produced ethanol."
From Iraq to the treatment of wounded veterans to running an honest Department of Justice to looking out for our farmers, is there anything this administration can do to make the average American proud?
* Since writing this I have been informed that auto makers already manufacture engines that run on pure ethanol. In fact, this year for the first time all race cars in the Indy 500 will be fueled by 100% ethanol. For more on this see the Indy 500 website.
Hal Brown is a clinical social worker and former mental health center director who is mostly retired from his private psychotherapy practice. He writes on the psychopathology of public figures and other topics that pique his interest. He can be found online at www.stressline.com)