With friends like these…

I guess we can stop telling fairy tales about the climate change bill improving in the Senate. To the contrary, the corn/agriculture/ethanol Democrats, having thrown the science under the bus in the House, are preparing to back up and run over it again, just to be sure.

The Iowa Democrat, a major advocate for ethanol, also wants to expand opportunities for the corn-based version of the fuel. He said he would like to include language that would raise the amount of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent — a change the ethanol industry has been lobbying for but auto manufacturers have been hesitant to embrace and environmental groups have balked at. “EPA’s got to get over their absolute rejection of ethanol. They’ve just got to get over it,” Harkin said. “And we’re going to force them to get over it.”

Just to be clear, Harkin, who is a real live actual lawyer by professional qualification, told the Times’ Climate Wire: “If it’s like the House bill, I’ll be reasonably happy. We want no indirect land use, things like that in there — there is no scientific basis for that.”

The land use issue is not a fringe matter: both the California and EPA estimates (omitting, in the second case, an indefensible fantasy scenario in which corn ethanol has to be grown for a hundred years) recognize land use change emissions and find corn ethanol to be no more climate friendly than gasoline. I had a hand in the California analysis and I can offer several reasons why the numbers the Air Resources Board are using are too low. In any case, no scientific analysis has ever shown the indirect land use change discharge from crop-sourced ethanol to be zero or close to it. Congress is setting up to put global warming policy for transportation fuels into reverse and burn the trees out from under a lot of tropical creatures, and we haven’t even heard from the coal folks in the Senate; surely they expect equal rights to profit by toasting the planet.

No wonder Obama’s climate initiative at the G-8 was dissed. He promised policy would be constrained by reality as science observes it, but apparently that was, let’s say, aspirational, and he went to l’Aquila with empty hands, in fact with a generally weak environmental record going back to the transit-stingy stimulus.

Has anyone seen John Holdren doing any actual science advising, by the way?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.