Biomass Confusion

Why on God’s green earth are we doing this?

Farmers supplying the nation’s largest biofuels producer with corn crop residue that can be converted to cellulosic ethanol can double their income under a new USDA program.

The article goes on to say that the farmers get paid for providing biomass to the plant and then can turn around and Uncle Sugar (ne Uncle Sam) will pay them the same amount again. I don’t know that this is properly even a subsidy–more like a direct cash giveaway. Of course, the cash which is being given away used to belong to taxpayers, but that is apparently not an issue.

While we are at it, here is another negative consequence of the same government program:

In a matter of months, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program — a small provision tucked into the 2008 farm bill — has mushroomed into a half-a-billion dollar subsidy that is funneling taxpayer dollars to sawmills and lumber wholesalers, encouraging them to sell their waste to be converted into high-tech biofuels. In doing so, it is shutting off the supply of cheap timber byproducts to the nation’s composite wood manufacturers, who make panels for home entertainment centers and kitchen cabinets.

While it remains unclear whether Congress or the Obama administration will push to revamp the program, even some businesses that should benefit from the subsidy are beginning to question its value.

“It’s not right. It’s not serving any purpose,” said Bob Jordan, president of Jordan Lumber & Supply in North Carolina, even while noting that he might be able to get twice as much money for his mill’s sawdust and shavings under the program.

“The best thing they could do is forget about it. All it’s doing is driving the price of wood up.”

Whether we are paying sawmills for shavings or farmers for cornstalks, a small group of people are getting short term profits at the expense of overall long term stability and sustainability. We’ve got to stop looking at the next month, the next quarter, the next year–and consider where these policies are putting us 5 and 10 and 20 years down the road.

Delayed gratification–it’s not just for children anymore.

UPDATE @9:30

In a similar fashion, we have the federal government providing massive loan guarantees to a power company in South Dakota. Is it because the power company cannot get such backing from the private sector (that is, banks didn’t think it was a good investment)? Thanks to our tax dollars at work, we may never know.

One thought on “Biomass Confusion

  1. Using diesel-powered equipment to manufacture ethanol, a fuel it cannot burn baffles many. Oilseeds make far more sense, petroleum-intense plastics continue to landfills instead of generating power while heptane-rich Ponderosa Pine infests the Black Hills choking historic aspen habitat.

    South Dakota is a chemical toilet.

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