Do The Impossible Or Get Fined by the EPA

The impossible is no barrier to EPA bureaucratic enforcers.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created to use the power of government to force companies and individuals to spend money on things they'd rather not.  Obviously it's cheaper for a power plant not to scrub nasty pollutants out of their smokestack exhaust, so nobody would invest in stack-scrubbers if the EPA didn't require it.

This extends down into each of our homes.  The EPA has mandated low-flow toilets for some years now; it is illegal to manufacture or sell the old-style johns, so if you want one you have to go to a junk store or to Canada.  For many years, the federally-mandated low-flow toilets simply didn't work well; the EPA had succeeded in banning a century-old, well-understood, highly-reliable technology and replacing it with something far less effective or functional.  Only recently has toilet reliability caught up to where it was thirty years ago.

As frustrating as that was, though, and for all their faults, at least low-flow toilets did exist.  They might not work well, they might be more expensive, but you could at least get them.

Doesn't Exist?  Too Bad!

Following this time-honored tradition of "demand it and it will appear," Congress empowered the EPA to require oil companies to buy cellulosic ethanol and blend it with the gasoline they sell to you and me.  This was a bipartisan travesty; the bill was passed by Nancy Pelosi's Democrats and signed by George W. Bush.

We've previously written about the outrageous boondoggle of ordinary ethanol, which dumps corn into your gas tank at appalling expense both at the pump and the grocery store.  This is a little different; cellulosic ethanol is derived from cellulose which human beings can't eat - stalks, stems, wood pulp and the like.  In theory, cellulosic ethanol is made from junk that would otherwise be thrown away or burned, so it's turning garbage into something useful and valuable which is a Good Thing.

In theory.  In the real world, nobody knows how to actually make the stuff affordably!  It ought to be possible to do and someday we'll likely figure it out, but it simply can't be done today.  The amount of cellulosic ethanol produced in the United States, according to the EPA's own website, is a grand total of 0.

Yet the law demands that oil companies obtain and re-sell this entirely nonexistent and imaginary product on pain of a hefty fine.  As the Wall Street Journal reports,

Because there was no cellulosic fuel available, oil companies have had to purchase "waiver credits"—for failing to comply with a mandate to buy a product that doesn't exist. In 2010 and this year, the EPA has forced oil companies to pay about $10 million for these credits. Since these costs are eventually passed on to consumers, the biofuels mandate is an invisible tax paid at the gas pump.  [emphasis added]

When our government outlawed Edison's lightbulb, it was an unconstitutional, illogical, contemptible intrusion into liberty and personal choice - but for all their mercury-pollution and other egregious flaws, fluorescent twisty-bulbs at least can be found on every store shelf and do provide effective if wan light.  Cellulosic ethanol has not even that dubious merit.

That doesn't faze the tyrants at the EPA - but it ought to.  A government which knowingly and imperiously demands the impossible has lost its moral authority to demand anything at all.

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments

A hardy amen to this article. Perhaps the time is growing nigh when the producers will take a one month vacation.

July 16, 2012 4:08 PM

The EPA has turned from a protection of the environment agency to a socialist/communist style agency that mandates draconian measures to accomplish perceived social benefits no matter the cost. The excesses of US regulatory agencies are a millstone around the neck of productive citizens and business in this country. The US is sinking into a quagmire of bureaucracy to the point of collapse.

July 19, 2012 10:34 AM

Eternal Watts
Long after the Feds have printed bushels of money and your U.S. dollar buys nearer to nothing, long after the warring in Syria or Iran has cost you in even more "forever taxes", and long after the ever-rising prices around you threaten your survival, Oil prices soar again forced ever upward by Asian pressures bidding in desirable Yuan, Coal scarcities run its price upward, Solar cells bought today will still be pumping out the same amount of energy, Wind Turbines bought today will still be spinning out the same currents, Scotland's Wave engines built at today's prices, will still generate clean reliable electricity, Tidal endeavours around the world will yield the same steady pulse of current, mini to huge hydro installations will squirt out the power, great bobbing wave systems will keep on bobbing out the watts, Water heated by the earth's crust will still feed Icelandic generators, Great tanks of manure, even humanure, will bubble up methane. All this electricity domestic in source, free, perpetual, eternal or recyclable, clean, radiation free, and good for this land. Even, heaven forbid the day the U.S. Dollar would die, these will still serve and support our civilization.

July 19, 2012 12:09 PM

I might feel bad for the oil companies if it wasn't for the BILLIONS of subsidy dollars that they receive. Fork the oil companies, they should be fined just for being jerks...

July 19, 2012 10:04 PM

I don't disagree with your article. I just wanted to point out that 10 million dollars is soooooo small. in 2013 the US used 134 billion gallons of gas. that means the EPA fines are somewhere around $0.00007 per gallon.

October 26, 2014 1:59 PM
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