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Contradictions seen in alternative energy plan

Richard Simon, Elizabeth Douglass and John O’Dell; LA Times
President Bush’s proposals to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20% in 10 years include more specific and ambitious new goals than in previous White House statements, but they also appear to rely on assumptions about energy markets, politics and technology that some experts say are debatable, and include some apparent contradictions.

In general, Bush’s proposal to boost alternative fuels such as ethanol was greeted with conditional enthusiasm by many scientists, environmentalists and members of Congress. His plan would require suppliers to include 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels in the nation’s vehicle fuel supply by 2017, up from the current 5 billion gallons.
(24 Jan 2007)
One of the best analyses of Pres. Bush’s energy proposals in the mainstream media. Problems with ethanol are mentioned later in the article. Still, I think The Oil Drum and Gristmill give a much better picture. -BA

Ethanol Production Booming on Demand

Steven Mufson, Washington Pos
The energy agenda in Washington has been long dominated by oil interests, but in a reversal of political fortunes, these days it is Big Oil fighting to preserve its tax incentives and the ethanol industry that is adding new ones.

President Bush may up the ante tonight in his State of the Union address, many analysts think, by setting new targets for ethanol use or encouraging automakers to shift to engines capable of handling E85, a fuel that is 85 percent ethanol.

…But an increasing number of economists and energy experts are questioning whether the benefits of producing ethanol — especially ethanol made from corn — have been oversold. They say that rising ethanol production is driving up corn prices, adding to summer smog and draining investment from other energy projects.
(23 Jan 2007)

Blindness on Biofuels

Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post
…The great danger of the biofuels craze is that it will divert us from stronger steps to limit dependence on foreign oil: higher fuel taxes to prod Americans to buy more gasoline-efficient vehicles and tougher federal fuel economy standards to force auto companies to produce them. True, Bush supports tougher — but unspecified — fuel economy standards. But the implied increase above today’s 27.5 miles per gallon for cars is modest, because the administration expects gasoline savings from biofuels to be triple those from higher fuel economy standards.

The politics are simple enough. Americans dislike high fuel prices; auto companies dislike tougher fuel economy standards. By contrast, everyone seems to win with biofuels: farmers, consumers, capitalists. American technology triumphs. Biofuels create rural jobs and drain money from foreign oil producers. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, this enticing vision is dramatically overdrawn.
(24 Jan 2007)

Springtime for Ethanol

Alexei Barrionuevo, NY Times
The Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry’s major lobbyist, works out of cramped offices that it shares with a lawyer near Capitol Hill. Pictures of ethanol plants from its 61 board members hang everywhere. “We’re about to run out of wall space,” said Bob Dinneen, the association’s president.

The association may only have six staff members but it is now bursting with energy, a far cry from the early days when its founder, a South Dakota farm boy who was convinced America needed to break the stranglehold of foreign oil, quit in frustration after four years.

After three decades of surviving mostly on tax subsidies, the industry is poised tonight to get its biggest endorsement from on high that it has a long-term future as a home-grown alternative to gasoline.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush is expected to call for a huge increase in the amount of ethanol that refiners mix with gasoline, probably double the current goal of 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

…Corn-based ethanol can only marginally reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. But it does little, if anything, to improve energy efficiency, and the mounting concern of some politicians is that relying on corn is leading to collateral damage in other parts of the agricultural economy and threatening the nation’s status as the leading corn exporter. The big increase in the works may mean consumers would end up paying more at the supermarket.

So the ethanol lobby and its political supporters now face the challenge of trying to maintain the momentum of ethanol’s feel-good story before the potential negative consequences of the rapid ramp-up become all too apparent.
(23 Jan 2007)