Ethanol, Millhaven, and Me
I appeared on the McGraw Millhaven Show Monday to discuss a number of items, but for the point of this post I will limit it to our case study about ethanol. The Missouri Corn Growers Association appeared on the show yesterday to give their side of the issue, which is what debate is all about. I was unable to listen in yesterday as I was driving to Kennett (damn, the Bootheel is far away!) to give a presentation about another topic. Dapper Dan the intern, however, listened carefully and gave me detailed notes about the corn growers’ appearance, so that I could respond via this blog.
The corn grower’s rep, Gary Marshall, (not that Garry Marshall) achnowledged that E-10 ethanol gasoline has reduced fuel efficiency. He said that our estimate of a 2.5-percent reduction was too high, though, for much of the gas. He also speculated that no Missourian finds a decline in mileage, which I will further speculate is wrong, and point my valued readers here and here. The most important thing is that they admit they did a study claiming cost savings by E-10 gas and did not account for the reduced fuel efficiency. The study that the MCMC commissioned is not sound public policy research — it’s propaganda.
Next, the interview got into a canard that the ethanol industry likes to use in regard to the ethanol subsidy. The reasoning goes that we should logically ignore the subsidy, because the oil industry is subsidized, too (which it is), so they cancel each other out. Is that correct? No. Let’s go to the ultimate authority on this, the Energy Information Administration with the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Just last year, they released a report about the subsidy amounts provided to the overall energy industry. The 2007 value of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit was just less than $3 billion dollars ($2,990,000, to be exact; figure on page 21). Let’s compare this with oil. The federal subsidies for ALL natural gas and oil prodiction (much more than just automobile fuels) was just more than $2 billion ($2,090,000, to be exact — page 23). That is almost a billion dollars more in subsidies for ethanol alone than for the entire oil and natural gas industry combined, which, again, includes home heating oil, gas for your car, etc. Now consider that the oil and gas industry dwarfs the ethanol industry, and it is inescapable that one industry (ethanol) is MUCH MORE HEAVILY SUBSIDIZED than the other industry (traditional oil and gas).
Now, to be fair, you might say we should have incorporated the lower oil subsidies into our case study analysis. But our study never stated that oil and gas didn’t get subsidies. It refuted the calculations used in the MCMC study by insisting that they don’t get to claim the 51-cent-per-gallon subsidy as savings for Missourians, as though taxpayers didn’t pay for that subsidy in the first place. The oil and gas subsidies, small and non-distortionary as they are, were fully included in the cited gas prices used by ethanol supporters in their claims to save us money.
There is much more to consider here, but this post is already too long. I have nothing against ethanol. I dislike the subsidy, in the form of the tax credit, in the same way I dislike all agricultural subsidies. But most other agricultural subsidies are not forced upon me via mandate, like E-10 gas is. It is the combination of mandating a subsidized product that I dislike, and I like it even less when supporters of the dictate use poorly reasoned and flawed studies to tell me it’s a good thing.
P.S. — I hope you all get just how ridiculously clever the title of this post is!