<
>

Dirty price of a failed energy policy

3/13/2008

Trips to the grocery store really suck.

Milk is $4 a gallon. Bread is more than $3 a loaf. A dozen eggs just exceeded $2. These are basic food items. You can't simply do without them.

Getting to the store is a problem, too. Oil is now more than $100 a barrel.

The price of corn — that feeds the dairy cows and laying hens — is at an all-time high, according to the Wall Street Journal. So is hard red spring wheat, needed to make the bread that feeds us. In February 2007, a bushel on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange was $4.92. It recently hit $17.63.

That $100 a barrel oil is driving many of these price increases. It's the result of a failed energy policy that lacks any leadership from the federal government.

The price of oil didn't just sneak up on us. It's been on rocket rise for several years.

Any serious call for conservation from the president?

No.

The last two State of the Union addresses have come and gone with no serious attempt to lead and rally Americans to practice basic energy conservation. It's not in the failed energy policy: That's because conservation and those espousing it never got to be part of the development of the failed energy policy.

The record corn and wheat prices are also the result of a more insidious part of the failed energy policy.

Alternative fuel.

President Bush did ask for that — 35 billion more gallons a year by 2017 — during his 2007 State of the Union address. However, his failed energy policy advisors forgot to tell him that such a request would result in overplanting of corn for fuel on America's farmland.

That's because corn-based ethanol is the only alternative fuel we have a semblance of infrastructure to readily produce.

That's too bad, because it's a poor choice. It's not that much more efficient than the oil we're already using to make gasoline, and planting acres of corn to go into your gas tank means less corn to feed the dairy (and beef) cows and laying hens (and chickens we eat) — and far fewer acres getting planted in wheat for bread or other important food crops.

So the price of everything goes up even more.

I'm betting you're still not pumping that corn-based ethanol into your gas tank. My nearby dozen or so gas stations don't have it, even if I wanted it.

I don't.

Availability won't get better in the short term, and it's a poor energy choice in the long term.

That's a failed energy policy. And really ... I'm being nice in not using stronger language to describe it.

Even several reports done in 2007 by the white shirts on Wall Street question the wisdom of corn-based ethanol as our primary alternative fuel source. The most visible doubter is Jim Cramer host of "Mad Money with Jim Cramer" on CNBC.

Yet we still need milk, bread and eggs — and ducks, and pheasants, and deer, and fish, and songbirds, and clean water.

So what is the price of wildlife in this twisted corn maze? Going much higher with everything else, I'm afraid. It's a dirty cost in the past we've not wanted to count, but it's real.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the baking industry's lobbying group will rally food company employees and bakers to march on Washington, D.C. The group wants Conservation Reserve Program lands released for crop planting.

Sure. Let's make that same mistake again.

But first, let's calculate the costs of all that topsoil washing away into and polluting our streams and rivers:

  • And fertilizer runoff and pesticide runoff needed to get the most out of this poor cropland.

  • And all of the trees and grasslands we'll have to cut down and plow under to get these fields ready for planting. Don't forget that.

  • And how about the incredible amount of water needed from our rivers and lakes to produce corn-based ethanol — we've got freshwater in endless supply, right?

When finished, we know we'll have at least 2.2 million fewer ducks a year coming from the prairie states.

Fourteen million less pheasants annually from the Midwest.

Millions fewer grassland dependent birds.

We'll kill off more fish by increasing pollution in our rivers and lakes.

Finally, maybe we can completely ruin the seafood industry in the Gulf of Mexico by increasing the size of the oxygen-less zone of hypoxia caused by fertilizer runoff pollution.

Louisiana will appreciate that as it continues to try to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Only then can we begin calculating the real costs of a failed energy plan.

Scrap the corn-based ethanol stupidity now. Concentrate research dollars and effort on more efficient cellulosic sources like prairie grasses, which are much more energy efficient and better for wildlife.

In the meantime, develop a useful energy policy that includes better fuel efficiency standards and makes energy conservation a patriotic duty — much like "Buckle up," "Don't drive drunk," and "Only you can prevent forest fires" did for those causes.

It's a national security issue, and every American can play a part.

That's it. I've got to go now.

My wife just called: She wants me to stop on the way home and pick up some milk, bread and eggs.

I'll have to go to the bank first.