Congressional Bill Would Add Coal, Natural Gas To List Of “Renewables”

Just 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing these days, and with the partisan gridlock and increasingly inflammatory rhetoric, it is no wonder why. To give you an idea of just how disconnected politicians are from today’s real world, Texan Republican Congressman Pete Olson has introduced a bill that would add coal and natural gas-derived ethanol to a list of renewable fuels.

What makes a fuel renewable, you ask? Why, the ability to remake that fuel or its feedstock, over and over again, offering (in theory) an unlimited fuel source. Right now America’s only major alternative fuel is corn-derived ethanol, most of which is blended into the gasoline stock as E10. In fact, there are more EV charging stations than there are E85 fuel stations.

But Pete Olson wants to add ethanol derived from coal and natural gas to compete with corn-ethanol to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard, which states that X amount of America’s fuels must come from a renewable source. There are many good arguments against corn ethanol, but at the very least one can argue that it is indeed a “renewable” fuel source.

You know what isn’t renewable? Coal. Not unless you’re prepared to wait around a few million years as organic matter is compressed into coal. Same with natural gas, though one could argue that biomethane (usually produced from poop waste) is something of a renewable fuel. Some companies claim that they can produce ethanol from coal or natural gas for between 25% and 35% less than other alternatives. Olson argues that more competition from non-corn sources will promote renewable fuels, while bringing down corn prices and other food prices.

But we’re just trading one bad idea (corn ethanol) for an even worse idea, especially with new EPA regulations poised to send the price of heating coal ever higher. What happens when coal becomes a major fuel source? Coal prices will rise, along with electricity prices. Not only that, but coal itself must be mined from the earth, an energy-intensive process that has produced untold ecological and human catastrophes.

There are better ethanol alternatives out there, like POET’s cellulosic ethanol, or Brazil’s sugarcane (which we may see more of now that an oppressive tariff has been removed.) The Renewable Fuels Association has come out against this proposed bill, saying “There is nothing renewable about fossil fuels and they have no place in national renewable energy policy.”

I think it’s pretty crazy to try and slip a coal-derived fuel into the “renewable fuel” category…but what about you? Could coal-ethanol really be part of America’s energy solution? Or is this just another attempt by politicians to bamboozle taxpayers into subsidizing the fossil fuel industry?

Source: Reuters | Image: abutyin via Shutterstock

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.