The original corn laws put tariffs on imported grain in an effort to help domestic producers. That was nearly two centuries ago, in England, and the experiment is taught as an example of bad economic policy. But people never learn and in this country, today, we have the renewable fuel mandates which have been a boon to corn farmers in Iowa (among other states) where presidential candidates are obliged to speak in favor of a policy that is a drag just about everywhere else in the country. The ill effects include higher gas prices, poor engine performance in automobiles, and damage to smaller engines found in chain saws, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers.
So, as Amy Harder at the Wall Street Journal writes,
In a report published Thursday, Harvard University professor Jim Stock, who served on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2013 and 2014, proposes several reforms to the biofuels mandate, known as the renewable fuel standard, including some requiring congressional approval.
Just as policy, how bad is the current scheme?
Under the law, which was expanded in 2007, the standards require refineries to blend an increasingly large amount of biofuels into gasoline to reach 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. No more than 15 billion gallons of that total can come from corn, which today is within one billion gallons of that limit.
The additional 21 billion gallons by 2022 are supposed to come from advanced biofuels made from non-corn products, but that sector is falling far short of producing what Congress had envisioned. The industry produced 1.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2014, with 1.7 billion gallons coming from biodiesel and 180 million gallons from other alternative fuels—far less than the 3.75 billion gallons the 2007 law had initially required for the year.
The EPA is almost two years behind issuing the requirements for 2014 and at least six months late with the 2015 requirements, partly a recognition that the biofuels market has not performed as the law assumed. Bound by a legal agreement announced last week, the agency is planning to propose the levels for 2014-2016 by June 1.
Other than that ...