It has been 34 years since I sat in long lines waiting to see if the service station still had some gas when I got to the pump, and at last Congress passed an energy policy. I should say they "sort of" passed some energy legislation. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says, they seem to be confused as to energy policy and energy politics. The following two points illustrate this concept.
The requirement on automobile manufacturers to raise the miles per gallon standard has an unintended consequence. With over 300 million people, and growing, the demand for new cars will continue to grow. When mileage increases, the cost of driving decreases, and people tend to drive more.
Anecdotally, I have several friends who purchased Prius hybrids, which almost double the miles per gallon of my small Toyota pickup. Since they more than double the miles I drive per year, they actually use more gas in a year than I do. It is gallons of gas that you need to save, not the rate at which you use the gas.
We have about 450 million acres of arable land in the United States. This year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we will plant 91 million acres of corn with a hope of getting several billion gallons of ethanol. So far, we have managed to increase the cost of corn by 67 percent, and since corn and corn products are one of the main food sources for our 300 plus million people, we are seemingly more interested in fueling our cars rather than feeding our people.
The goal of 36 billion gallons of ethanol in a few years is totally unrealistic unless you make the people eat something other than corn products. Paying almost the same for a can of corn and a gallon of fuel will not set well with the American public. As a side note, corn requires heavy fertilization, and one of the main constituents of fertilizer is natural gas.
There is hope for all our energy woes, not in the halls of Congress, but in the halls of our research universities. We are going to be coming close to moving from hydrocarbon fuels to hydrogen fuels in the near future, and our business community will see the profit that can be made from this new technology. Good research and our market economy best the politicians at every turn.
I do hope I am still around when hydrogen becomes our common fuel. It will be interesting to see how various institutions in America respond to having supplies of liquid hydrogen at our corner stations and being transported all about our land. I think of some in Astoria who oppose liquefied natural gas, and who would then live with liquid hydrogen, which will be more difficult to handle and more dangerous than LNG.