If you saw the movie Avatar, you’re familiar with the mythical energy source “unobtainium.” Evil corporations of Earth dispatched the military to the peaceful moon Pandora with the mission to acquire unobtainium at any cost, even if that price was the lives of the nonviolent Na’vi. Apparently the movie wasn’t as far from reality as we all thought.

Today’s unobtainium is another mythical energy source called “cellulosic ethanol.” Only our government would institute a federal regulation that demands oil refiners use millions of gallons of a substance that does not yet exist.

cellulosic ethanol

“As ludicrous as that sounds, it’s fact,” says Charles Drevna, who represents refiners. “If it weren’t so frustrating and infuriating, it would be comical.”

Tom Pyle of the Institute of Energy Research said, “The cellulosic ethanol biofuel program is the embodiment of government gone wild.”

Oil refiners, already crushed by a government set upon their demise are now at their wit’s end because the government enacted regulations to blend cellulosic ethanol with gasoline in 2005 on the assumption that it would somehow become available by 2012; unfortunately, it isn’t.

“None, not one drop of cellulosic ethanol has been produced commercially. It’s a phantom fuel,” says Pyle. “It doesn’t exist in the market place.”

Welcome unobtainium.

Charles Drevna added, “Forcing us to use a product that doesn’t exist, they might as well tell us to use unicorns.”

Despite unavailability of cellulosic ethanol, the government is about to levy fines against refiners for not using it.

“Why would they ask them to blend any at all if it doesn’t exist?” Pyle said. “Because they know that they can squeeze some extra dollars out of them.”

The EPA can lower the annual blending requirement for cellulosic ethanol to zero until its available, but just because something doesn’t it won’t deter the brilliant minds in DC.

“We are going to reduce your blending obligation by 98 percent because we feel that that’s the right thing to do,” says Brooke Coleman, the executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council of the Renewable Fuels Association. “We are going to maintain your blending obligation on the gallons that we think are going to emerge.”

If you’re asked to mix one-tenth of one percent of something that doesn’t exist, it might as well be 100 percent. Perhaps the EPA should require oil refiners reach out to the sorcerer’s union to see if they can whip up some cellulosic ethanol?

The EPA has remained officially silent on the cellulosic ethanol matter, only saying off-record that they’re still hoping production of cellulosic ethanol will emerge. There’s probably more than a few people praying Ronald Reagan will emerge from the grave to run in 2016; any day Ronny should come flying in on Pegasus carrying a few barrels of cellulosic ethanol.

The EPA should consider a study issued by the Congressional Research Service, stating that the government projects that cellulosic ethanol is not expected to be commercially available on a large scale until at least 2015; by that time more than $100 million in fines will have been assessed on the oil refiners. Want to venture a guess at who will be paying that fine? If something doesn’t happen in the near future, you will every time you fill up your tank.

Drevna of the refiners association says they had no other choice but legal action since the EPA insisted they still had to blend some of the nonexistent cellulosic ethanol.

“We’ve had to go to the courts and litigate this thing because they just turned a blind eye to us,” Drevna said.

So the refiners are now suing the EPA, in part because the mandate gets larger and larger: 500 million gallons this year, 3 billion by 2015 and 16 billion in 2022.

The refiners should tell the EPA that they have, in fact, blended 500 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol with their gasoline this year. How would the EPA prove them wrong? You can’t test for something that doesn’t exist. In fact there’s a tanker truck headed for your local refinery carrying cellulosic ethanol at this very moment, driven by a blue Na’vi from Pandora.

While President Bush’s EPA might have had the best of intentions, requiring the use of something that doesn’t exist is a study in governmental idiocy; the regulators could have simply required its use when and if commercially available. Now President Obama’s EPA wants to show their compassion by lowering the requirement and fining those without magical powers. God help us all.

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