Energy policy

Jim Ryun has some TV ads up attacking Democrats for their poor energy policy. This is, on its face, pretty silly. Add in the fact that he presents this attack while gassing up an SUV, and the comedy just gets better. He's at an E85 fueling station, one of 15 in Kansas.

He goes on to explain that "liberals in Washington have been blocking meaningful energy legislation for 30 years." I suppose the dearth of E85 stations is also the fault of liberals?

Here's a look at what's happened to energy prices. I adjusted the CPI gasoline series by the CPI series that excludes energy costs to get an inflation adjusted picture of gas prices:

I see gas prices falling under Bill Clinton, and skyrocketing under Bush. Indeed, Jim Ryun's entry to Congress seems to have marked the end of stable gas prices. Obviously, "meaningful" energy policy ought to consider more than prices of gas, but I don't see how giving Republicans the reins has given us an energy policy that could be called better in any sense.

The energy bill that has been held up in Congress would do nothing to encourage meaningful energy reform. Drilling in ANWR wouldn't give any significant change in the amount of oil available, and pushing ethanol at this point is probably foolish.

I say that because of the recent tests that Consumer Reports did. In addition to existing analyses that show ethanol production using as much, if not more, energy than you get by burning it, CR found that cars burning E85 get substantially worse gas mileage. Indeed, government flex-fuel credits reduce fuel efficiency by allowing companies to game the system.

CAFE standards place limits on the gas mileage a car company's fleet must have on average. Flex fuel vehicles, those that burn E85, for instance, are treated as if they'll use regular gasoline only half the time, and a 15% gasoline mixture the other half. That means that a flex fuel car gets a substantial fuel economy boost, even if no one ever puts E85 into it. That bogus bonus lets the manufacturer sell more gas-guzzlers.

This is the sort of provision that sensible people in Congress have been opposing. We need real change and serious reforms. We won't get that from this Congress.

Update: Republican Representative Sherwood Boehlert writes in the Washington Post:

For a long time now, politicians have handled U.S. energy policy the way BP apparently handled its pipeline: We've talked about it, we've taken some superficial actions, but we've failed to examine it closely, secure in our belief that everything seemed pretty much okay.…

The House passed a bill to streamline regulation of refinery construction, even though there is little evidence that regulation has constrained refinery capacity. The House repeatedly passed legislation to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, with proponents arguing that pollution from drilling is a thing of the past -- presumably a harder argument to make in the wake of this summer's revelations from BP.

What is conspicuously missing from the energy debate is any substantial discussion or action on energy efficiency or conservation. Conservative ideologues like to equate conservation with discomfort: sweltering in under-air-conditioned buildings or driving a subcompact car. But these images are absurdly outdated, if they were ever true. Conservation means developing and deploying technologies (including deploying many that already exist) to enable Americans to live the way they want to while using less energy.

Even Republicans don't think it's liberals' fault.

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I was just looking over fuel economy figures for 2006 & 2007 models and was surprised at the difference between E85 & gasoline mileages. But I guess the idea is to be using something other than gasoline (this works only if ethanol is produced using the power of dried manure).

Jim Ryun was once my hero. I watched him set a world record in the 1500 meters in LA back in the 60's. I also had a prof at Ball State who knew Jim when he was at KU (I believe). Too bad great achievements don't correlate with good sense. Enjoy your blog.

The Consumer Reports tests were on a Tahoe, which saw a 27% drop in efficiency. As they said:

"In addition, FFV engines are designed to run more efficiently on gasoline. E85 fuel economy could approach that of gasoline if manufacturers optimized engines for that fuel."

The Brazillian Obvio ! 828 (see my blog), soon to be released in the states by ZAP is designed for E100 or 100% ethanol and only sees a 10% drop in efficiency compared to gasoline. 10% on E100 for the Obvio over 27% on E85 for the Tahoe is getting a lot better...

I'm with you on everything else, but I'm not ready to completely write off ethanol just because US manufacturers haven't embraced the spirit of reducing emissions. The technology can do better and will only increase in efficiency, but let's face facts, a Tahoe is not the model of fuel efficiency regardless of what you run through it - and never will be.

Is that the SUV Ryun drive thanks to a $20,000-a-year taxpayer subsidy?

By MonkeyHawk (not verified) on 19 Sep 2006 #permalink

Eat: I don't write off ethanol either. Corn-based production may or may not be the answer. Brazil does it with sugar, which gives more bang for the buck. Cellulosic ethanol is just around the corner, or so they've been saying forever. I'm optimistic about the future, but the present is pretty grim.