Ohio MORPC, Sustainable Advocates Are Like Kids in a Candy Store

Published October 7, 2015

Sustainability issues have been at the center of public discussion in Ohio since 2014, when the state became the first in the nation to freeze its renewable energy mandate. Discussions of state mandates for wind and solar power and policies requiring the use of ethanol in fuels are common in statehouses around the country.

With so many important energy issues being discussed at the state level, I am grateful to have been allowed to participate in the sustainability discussion as a panelist on the Fuels and Transportation panel at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s (MORPC) Summit on Sustainability & the Environment on Friday, October 2. I would like to thank the Columbus Dispatch for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts from the conference.

The policy discussion on the panel ranged widely. Among other things, we talked about electric cars, the potential advantages and disadvantages of increasing the number of vehicles running on compressed natural gas, and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a government program that mandates a certain amount of renewable fuel – mainly ethanol made from corn – be blended with gasoline.

The main takeaway was clear. Many of these so-called “sustainable” ideas lack the most important form of sustainability: financial sustainability. These programs are completely dependent on government mandates and taxpayer subsidies, although the advocates of these initiatives on the MORPC panel never used those terms.

Instead, they used friendlier aliases such as “sustainability initiatives” and “financing mechanisms,” masking the fact these “sustainability programs” are simply the government choosing what sort of fuel you should use, which always results in higher costs for consumers. This is especially true of the RFS, which has done little to reduce U.S. use of foreign oil and has led to higher prices at the pump.

The RFS was enacted in 2005 by the Bush administration to increase U.S. domestic energy production in an attempt to cure the nation’s “addiction to foreign oil.” Some advocates of the ethanol mandate – although none on the MORPC panel – have claimed the ethanol mandate has played a crucial role in decreasing our imports of foreign oil by nearly one-third. That’s not true. The decline in foreign energy consumption is almost entirely due to fracking, which has made the United States one of the largest producers of oil in the world.

Mandating use of ethanol in our fuel supply increases costs for consumers, which I noted during the MORPC summit. One gallon of ethanol has about one-third less energy than a gallon of pure gasoline, which means drivers get fewer miles per gallon and end up spending more money to go the same distance. When advocates of the RFS point to the price of ethanol compared to gasoline and claim it saves people money, they are not factoring in the difference in gas mileage, which makes ethanol pennywise but pound foolish.

Sustainability has become trendy. It’s a fashionable buzzword used by politicians, businesses, and everyday folks alike. Driving a Tesla, a Nissan Leaf, or a Toyota Prius has become a status symbol, just as driving a Cadillac or Ford Mustang was a mark of status in prior decades. But these cars and renewables mandates are “sustained” by huge infusions of taxpayer dollars.

The excitement at the MORPC summit generated by the thought of implementing these mandates was similar to that of kids in a candy store, with each special-interest group wanting as many sweet treats as possible with as little regard for the costs, or for those who will ultimately pay them. I am grateful I had the opportunity to bring balance to the panel and remind the audience of the high costs of these programs.