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Do The Impossible Or Get Fined by the EPA

The impossible is no barrier to EPA bureaucratic enforcers.

By Kermit Frosch  |  July 16, 2012

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.