In my many discussions with ethanol proponents, they invariably push several narratives. Sometimes these narratives are sincere, but sometimes they are driven by glaring self-interest. Today I cover a quick way to understand their motivations.
I recently discussed the topic with a Midwestern corn farmer, and he cited the normal talking points. We spend money in the Middle East to ensure oil supplies aren’t disrupted. Burning oil creates carbon dioxide. Gasoline contains carcinogens. He then closed with “The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is about ensuring that we have cleaner air, and it’s working.”
So, I posed him this question: “Would you support a nationwide electric vehicle (EV) mandate?” He pretended not to understand the question: “I am not aware of any electric vehicle mandates.”
I said “There aren’t any. I am just asking if you would support one.” Again, he dodged the question: “I don’t think anyone is proposing an EV mandate.” I said “Sure, but we could implement one that would work just like the RFS. If you support ethanol mandates for cleaner air, surely you could support an EV mandate to accomplish the same objective?”
He wasn’t sure that sounded like a good idea. He said “I am not against electric cars, but I don’t think mandating them is the right approach.” I said “Now you might understand my position on ethanol.”
If you ever want to know if someone is being genuine when using ethanol talking points, you can check them for consistency by gauging their support for an EV mandate. It could be structured similar to the RFS.
Car manufacturers could be mandated to ensure that 10% of all the vehicles they sell are EVs. There could be some scheme in place, as there is with the RFS, to ensure compliance. The production of an electric vehicle could generate a Renewable Identification Number (RIN), just like with biofuels. And, just like with biofuels, a car maker that sells more than its mandated volumes could sell its excess RINs to a carmaker that didn’t sell enough. Through this system, we could ensure that we are selling whatever Congress deems is the right amount of EVs.
If a supporter of ethanol mandates is generally supportive of such a scheme, then at least they are being logically consistent. In fact, an electric vehicle mandate would accomplish largely the same goals as the RFS. If they start cherry-picking reasons not to support such a scheme, then one should be suspicious of their motivations.
For instance, they might argue that much of the lithium supply comes from outside the U.S. But if they simultaneously ignore the fact that the ethanol industry depends on oil — some of which comes from outside the U.S., they are again being inconsistent. (I would add that some lithium is produced in the U.S., and one could envision that this industry would get a boost from an EV mandate).
Likewise, if they argue that lithium mining is polluting, while 1). Ignoring pollution associated with corn farming and ethanol production, or 2). Again ignoring that the corn/ethanol industries depend on oil — they are being inconsistent.
The most consistent reason for such inconsistencies is that their support for ethanol isn’t really about clean air or any other talking point. Their support for ethanol is out of self-interest, and clean air is a talking point used to justify that self-interest.
Why does it matter? Because it is a fruitless endeavor to debate people who are primarily guided by self-interest. They aren’t necessarily looking for the best solution to a problem. They are looking for the solution that benefits themselves first and foremost.
By Robert Rapier