Bush Buys Time With Brazilian Ethanol Pact

Whatever political agenda has pushed Bush to admit the world must wean itself from dependency on fossil fuels is of little importance.

Barbara McClellan

March 14, 2007

3 Min Read
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If you’re wondering if President Bush suddenly has developed an environmental conscience given his recent ethanol-fuel pact with Brazil, think again.

Bush may not be able to silence his critics on the war in Iraq, but he has no intention of sitting back while Venezuela’s oil-rich and power-hungry President Hugo Chavez vilifies him.

Indeed, Bush has found a way to silence a number of critics – scientists, environmentalists, politicians and even some auto makers – by aligning himself with biofuels development and stricter carbon-dioxide emissions standards, albeit barely acknowledging global warming, a climatic phenomenon the U.S. officially has yet to recognize.

Instead, Bush insists the development of alternative fuels will diminish the influence of rogue regimes in countries rich with oil: “If you’re dependent upon oil from overseas, you have a national security issue,” he is quoted as saying.

Few can argue with that, and proponents of biofuels – made from renewable plant sources and blended with gasoline or diesel – wouldn’t want to.

Whatever political agenda has pushed Bush to admit the world must wean itself from dependency on fossil fuels is of little importance.

What matters is finding a sensible way to produce biofuels and make them available to the public that is win-win for auto makers, governments and society at large. And not just in terms of dollars but quality of life, as well.

There’s the rub. Accelerating fuel-economy standards too quickly will have a disproportionate impact on U.S. domestic auto makers, already struggling with bloated inventories of gas-guzzling vehicles.

And ratcheting up ethanol production primarily made from corn in the U.S. and sugarcane in Brazil, the world’s two largest ethanol producers, would cause food sticker shock as shrunken crops fall short of demand, forcing up prices from the Americas to Australia.

Already, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts corn will reach a record $3.60 a bushel this year, almost doubling 2005 prices. Higher corn prices push up the cost of livestock and poultry production, as well as grain and cereal costs.

Ironically, corn is a relatively inefficient source of ethanol. As Brazil keeps touting, ethanol made from sugarcane offers considerably more energy and is much cheaper to produce.

But Bush and his political cronies insist on maintaining a protective tariff on sugarcane, fearing an increase in imports of cheap foreign ethanol would undercut American producers.

Biofuels are not the only answer, of course, but they are the quickest and cheapest way to petroleum independence, given current vehicle-engine technology.

Bush learned this in Sao Paulo, where General Motors’ Brazilian unit in three short years has adapted flex-fuel technology to 99% of its models, allowing them to run on 100% ethanol or gasoline, or a combination of the two.

Plus, second-generation cellulosic ethanol, now in the development stages, will offer a host of plant stocks, wood and even algae to replace food crops in the making of biofuels.

Whatever direction the world’s nations take to reduce carbon emissions –including ending deforestation, placing a moratorium on more coal-burning power plants and improving energy efficiency – they are running out of time.

So says an international team of scientists that in late February warned the world now must act to keep climate change from becoming a catastrophe. The global warming debate is over, they say. The time to act is now.

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