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Archive for May, 2013

Legislators have several ways to influence the direction of civilization.  They can tax activities or products that are believed to be unhealthy; so-called sin taxes.  They can provide tax money for incentives for the producers of desired products and activities.  Or they can simply legislate that the preferred activities or products become part of the civilization; part of the marketplace for consumers.  The latter method, referred to as a mandate or standard, has the advantage that raising taxes is not necessary.  It also has the advantage of providing a guaranteed market for the new product.  It attracts innovators and investors, new businesses and employment opportunities.

Mandates and standards become necessary when a consensus develops that a society is moving inevitably toward an undesirable outcome.  They become necessary when the economic system, the market for goods and services, is not working to change the direction.  I’m talking about the self-destructing path we’ve taken by continuing to use oil in transportation fuels.  Containing the particulate and gaseous pollutants from gasoline combustion has been an ongoing problem for Americans.  Through the years auto makers have been required to find ways of controlling the noxious exhaust. The one pollutant that still eludes a fix is carbon dioxide.

In 2008 the legislature mandated that ethanol be added to gasoline.  Adding a renewable fuel would influence atmospheric amounts of CO2 because plants take it out of the air.  Several decades ago a researcher at the University of Florida discovered how to make ethanol without using corn.  His discovery led to the use of non-edible plants to make ethanol; weeds and grasses, leaves and wood, even municipal garbage.  After 2008 a number of far-sighted innovators came to Florida to build production facilities and market their non-corn ethanol products.

Now a company in South Florida is producing ethanol from municipal waste and a company on the west coast is making ethanol from algae.  The U of F has opened a department to research new sources for ethanol.  Corn ethanol has several disadvantages although it still trumps oil because it’s renewable.  Most of the emerging non-corn, cellulosic ethanol products can be produced with less water and energy and reduce life-cycle greenhouse gases even further.

The Florida climate can support a variety of plant stocks that could become important to a new ethanol industry.  Iowa relies on only one source for their ethanol; corn.  That state leads the nation in ethanol production producing almost 30 percent of our total supply.  That production supports 55,000 in state jobs and adds $5.4 billion to their economy.  Could Florida become the next Iowa with a thriving, innovative, ethanol industry that doesn’t disrupt food production while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gases?  Thanks to the 2008 legislature we have already started in that direction.

Now the 2013 legislators have voted to reverse the decision of 2008.  The new membership apparently has some ideological conflict with using government to advance the welfare of society.  They want to let the marketplace make us better.

What choices have consumers had with regard to their transportation fuels?  Federal and state governments have been shaking hands with oil drillers for over a century.  Oil dominates our society.  We’ve burned so much of it the earth is starting to suffocate even as oil barons shrug off the risks of harder to access deposits.  Look at the results of the BP spill in the Gulf.  Look at the black pipeline muck that ran in the streets of an Arkansas town last month.  Tar sands extraction is ruining a great Canadian forest that breathes oxygen into the atmosphere and provides a home for the earth’s creatures.  Petroleum gasoline combustion is the second largest source of carbon dioxide pollution in the world.  Last year the CEO of Exxon-Mobile made a comment regarding the effects of climate change: “(In a free market) farmers (affected by droughts and floods) can always move to another location.”

It’s his market!

Governor Scott can veto the ethanol repeal bill.  He has good reasons to do so.

 

Sam Kendall

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