Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Pindyck on Energy Policy

Greg Mankiw's Blog: The favorite sonnet of the Pigou Club:
"a tax on carbon, a tax on gasoline -- a large one"

This is from an Oxfam Briefing Paper

Another Inconvenient Truth

The current biofuel policies of rich countries are neither a solution to the climate crisis nor the oil crisis, and instead are contributing to a third: the food crisis. In poor countries, biofuels may offer some genuine development opportunities, but the potential economic, social, and environmental costs are severe, and decision makers should proceed with caution.

Ethanol tariffs

The most salient example of this in both the USA and the EU is the tariff raised on ethanol imports. The USA applies a tariff of 2.5 per cent and $0.54 per gallon added duty ($0.1427 per litre); the EU €0.192 ($0.30) per litre; Canada C$0.0492 ($0.047) per litre. While in all cases, preferential access is available to certain countries, these tend not to be significant producers of ethanol. Most notably, the tariff applies to Brazilian ethanol in each case. The net effect is to significantly reduce imports.

Although Brazilian ethanol production is far from perfect and presents various social and environmental sustainability problems discussed elsewhere in this paper, it is the most favourable biofuel in the world in terms of both cost and GHG balance. To argue that your policy objective is emissions reduction while simultaneously restricting imports of Brazilian ethanol is incoherent.

The costs of these distortions extend beyond the financial. The most profound example is the USA, where production of corn-based ethanol, sheltered from competition with its sugarcane cousin, continues to snowball. This is not a good thing: corn ethanol is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, often coal, endowing it with one of the worst GHG and energy balances of all...

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