The biofuel scam--and it's a 'beaut'

Few policy makers of any national significance are stepping forward to question whether our national bet on biofuels makes good sense.

When it comes to navigating a way out of the nation's energy crisis, you have to wonder whether the fix is already in.

The government has picked the winner--even as senior policy makers issue bland pronouncements about finding new technologies to help break our energy dependence on foreign oil. Between now and 2012, biofuel subsidies will total more than $92 billion, according to a recent report conducted under the auspices of the Global Subsidiaries Initiative.

The timing is coincidental, but the report came out just as Senate and House leaders were weighing a plan which would leave renewable energy out of the next congressional energy bill.

I'm sure there's some larger logic to explain that omission. But it might have a little something to do with the political muscle of the farm interests, a powerful lobby that knows its way around the corridors of power.

The 2007 farm bill features strong support for biofuel subsidies--even with crude oil prices hovering over $90 a barrel.

I've read a number of expert studies questioning the environmental impact of biofuels--especially the production of corn ethanol. Yet few policy makers of any national significance are stepping forward to question whether our national bet on biofuels makes good sense. That hasn't stopped Washington and various state capitols from lavishing billions of dollars on agribusiness' pet project. Most of the $92 billion I mentioned earlier will go to ethanol production.

All this is giving the cynics a field day. Each dollar spent on biofuel subsidies is a dollar not getting invested in other, possibly cleaner technologies. But the only people squawking seem to be the folks involved from those particular fields. I'm not advocating dumping ethanol research and production, but the selling of biofuels as the all-American favorite has been a marketing tour de force. That doesn't necessarily mean it's smart decision-making.

Tech Culture
About the author

Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.


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