This summer's once-in-a-half-century Midwestern drought caused global prices for staple food products to soar by 10%—and corn in particular to jump by 25%, according to the World Bank. The food shortages across Africa, the Middle East and South America are the worst since the 1980s and have produced hunger and political instability, according to the United Nations.
So perhaps this emergency is the time to relax the U.S. ethanol mandate, which diverts four of every 10 domestic bushels of corn into gas tanks. That's equal to 15% of international corn production, burned in internal combustion engines that could run on another fuel. But this obvious solution is evidently not obvious to the Environmental Protection Agency, which, despite studying the question for more than a year, says it needs more time.
Last October, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Action Aid petitioned the EPA to review the so-called renewable fuel standard that mandates that 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into the gasoline supply next year. The free-market think tank and global hunger charity argued that the EPA's technical regulations implementing the mandate did not meet "basic standards of quality."
That basically applies to all EPA rule making, though in this case the EPA was supposed to answer in 90 days. But last Thursday the agency took another 90-day extension, the third so far. "We would like to assure you that we are working diligently to provide you with a substantive response," the EPA claimed.
Specifically, the Competitive Enterprise and Action Aid folks noted that the EPA failed to consider multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting the link between ethanol and world hunger in its public health literature review, as required by law. That includes one paper that concludes that biofuel mandates are responsible for at least 192,000 premature deaths every year. Overall more people die from chronic hunger world-wide than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.
President Obama declared in May that "As the wealthiest nation on Earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against chronic hunger and malnutrition, and to partner with others." He saluted U.S. global food programs but noted with characteristic understatement that "when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we've still got a lot of work to do. It's unacceptable. It's an outrage. It's an affront to who we are."
This sentiment did not trickle down to the EPA, which is less concerned with feeding the world than feeding the ethanol lobby and buying Farm Belt electoral votes. The EPA will now rule on the hunger issue post-election.