At what point does environmental zeal descend into inhumane policy? Try the ethanol mandate, which is now creating a wave of state-sponsored hunger in poor countries like Guatemala as food is diverted to fuel.
In a buried item in Saturday's New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal reported that growing demand for biofuels in the U.S. is having a catastrophic impact on the small poor nations south of our border, such as Guatemala.
The problem is not the usual suspect of the past — local socialist policies — but the socialism going on up north called the ethanol mandate, which has resulted in 44% of U.S. corn crops getting burned as fuel.
That may sound good to a U.S. environmentalist, given that ethanol has been marketed as a "green" energy, but to a tiny nation like Guatemala, it's a disaster.
Corn forms the staple of the meager Guatemalan diet, and also serves to sustain its livestock. Ever since 2005, Guatemala has become an importer of U.S. food.
There's nothing wrong with importing food, of course, so long as a nation moves on to more productive competitive advantages. But there was never any time for that to happen. The imposition of the Renewable Fuel Act of 2007 came right after the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement. Cheap, subsidized corn rolled in from the U.S., displacing local farmers, and then prices shot up with the ethanol mandate. That law requires one-tenth of all U.S. gasoline to contain corn-based ethanol, offering distorted incentives to U.S. farmers to sell their corn at subsidized prices, leaving less for food.
The mandate has diverted so much corn to fuel, it's cut into the amount of corn available for exports. Corn exports have fallen nearly 50% since 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
As a result, corn prices have soared as much as 100% for Guatemalans, making corn not just expensive but out of reach for the impoverished population, which spends two-thirds of its money to buy food. The Times reported that half of Guatemalan children are malnourished.
"There are pros and cons to biofuel, but not here," Misael Gonzales of the C.U.C. farmer's union told Rosenthal. "These people don't have enough to eat."
Yet in light of this humanitarian crisis, incredibly, the Environmental Protection Agency sees no reason to use its legal authority to waive the mandate so that America's starving neighbors can survive.
"Such adjustments focus on domestic issues like cases in which biofuel 'requirements would severely harm the economy of a state, a region, or the United States,'" the Times reported the EPA as saying.
Nor is the even more tangible problem of drought — which has shriveled corn harvests in the Midwest — good enough for an economic damage waiver.
"The agency has not found evidence to support a finding of severe 'economic harm' that would warrant granting a waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard," the EPA said in a statement in November. "We recognize that this year's drought has created hardship in some sectors of the economy, particularly for livestock producers. But our extensive analysis makes clear that Congressional requirements for a waiver have not been met and that waiving the RFS will have little, if any, impact."
This attitude, given the drought, famine and impoverishment, makes one wonder just what it would take for the EPA to issue its waiver.
In reality, it's a callous sign of a government agency so wedded to its green agenda it will rationalize any man-made famine or other unintended consequence of its policy for the sake of its environmental purity.
Stalin operated that way, and so did all the other global creators of hunger.
The astounding thing is that it's now the U.S. that's creating it, a byproduct of the Obama economy and its immoral green agenda.