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Billions for WHAT?

This morning’s Washington Post Business Section almost made me choke on my cereal.

The lead story documents the billions and billions of dollars with which we subsidize the blending of ethanol into our gasoline supply. It’s currently around $5 billion annually and will rise to more than $18 billion 15 years from now. And that’s just from the 51-cent tax credit the oil industry gets for every gallon of ethanol they add to the mix. That doesn’t include the agricultural subsidies lavished on farmers to grow the corn for the ethanol.

At the same time, the same Congress can’t find it within itself to spend the $6 million already authorized to fund a few programs to test what would encourage more people to ride or walk instead of driving, or the less than $10 million annual cost of a tax-break for bicycle commuters.

According to the most recent National Household Travel Survey, bicyclists rode about 6.5 billion miles in 2001, a number that has surely increased given rising gas prices and the obesity crisis headlines of recent years. Conservatively, that saved around 300 million gallons of gas from being burned. And remember that’s with bicycling making up a paltry 1 percent of trips in this country. We could double or triple the levels of bicycling in US cities with just a fraction of the money being spent to sustain our driving habit.

Biofuels certainly have their place in the mix of solutions to combat climate change – but I hope at least some of that corn is still left to make my morning cereal.

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