30 Apr. 2008

Back On TV: Howard's Old Ethanol Mate

Remember Dick Honan, the Manildra CEO who in 2003 secured government subsidies for ethanol production after donating more than $300,000 to the Liberal Party? Alan Ramsey called it "the ultimate in old-fashioned driveway service: $30.86 million of public money in 16 months".

Although Howard initially denied meeting Honan, it was later revealed that the pair had at least seven face-to-face meetings.

Despite the scandal, however, the ethanol subsidies remained in place. Cars started sporting ETH-NOL bumper stickers and the stigma attached to the word disappeared as the need for alternative fuel sources became clearer. There was limited opposition to mandatory ethanol blending, and even many die-hard Greens were on board for the ride.

In 2006, Howard government introduced legislation that compensated producers for a 38.14c-a-litre excise on ethanol. Now the whole program is under review. But don't expect a big slap-down for Dick Honan:
In recent years, Manildra has been far more even-handed, and in 2006-07 Mr Honan gave $347,000 to Labor and $244,000 to the Coalition.
There are many problems associated with Ethanol as an alternative fuel source, but the major one today is that when farmers stop growing food to produce ethanol, it drives up the cost of food. But the CEO of the Dalby Bio Refinery, a man with the unfortunate name of Kevin Andrews, is having none of that:
"The price of rice has doubled in recent weeks and not one drop of alcohol for biofuels has come from rice."
Of course, the price of rice has doubled because land is being farmed for other purposes, and because the price of other staple foods has doubled, sparking riots in many parts of the world. So why are these big Aussie refiners still being disingenuous?
The push for agrofuels is driven by the same vested interests that have pushed fossil fuel addiction — and now seek to increasingly replace fossil fuels with biofuels without altering the highly unjust and unsustainable global system that got us into this mess in the first place.
The solution to this mess is second generation biofuels, biofuels produced from non-arable land, and other alternative energy sources. If we approach this problem energetically, scientifically and morally, we can simultaneously help solve our global warming predicament. The moment is now!