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Biofuels And Carbon Pricing

At my old haunt, Grist, biodiversivist has written a thoughtful analysis of the Lieberman-Warner bill's ostensible goal of becoming a Manhattan project for renewable fuels (and not just largely unknown entities like advanced and cellulosic biofuels, but for corn ethanol, too, which has recently been shown to have a greater carbon intensity than gasoline). He projects that L-W will trigger the production of 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol. Stupid, right?

The renewable fuel issue is a tricky one politically, though. So important is ethanol to the building of a political coalition to support climate action, that subsidies are all but assumed. At least that's the perception. Both Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's extremely similar climate change plans, for instance, contain large subsidies for biofuel R&D, and they're working in the abstract world of campaign white papers. So the questions, to my mind, are: Can a climate change bill (either L-W, or a different, better, hypothetical bill at some point down the line) pass the Senate without keeping corn on the dole? If so, how? And if not how should environmentalists and politicians talk about the issue?

P.S. What all this underscores, I think, is the importance of a tightly-administered blanket carbon pricing scheme (a tax or a cap-and-trade system with a full auction) as part of any legislative effort to address the climate crisis. Put a huge premium on the production and use of any carbon-rich fuels and a lot of these backwards steps will largely disappear.

--Brian Beutler