Biofuel crimes in a recession.

You know what they say about crime in a recession, right? That should apply especially for bioenergy in the time of peak oil and imminently catastrophic climate change, right? That’s my theory, and it’s supported by two recent pieces of anecdata: First, the rise in used cooking oil theft, at least in Arlington County, Virginia, where french fry grease apparently has a street price of $4/gallon. Second, straight-up fraud in renewable fuel credits.

Aside from the general novelty of biofuel-related crimes, these stories raise a couple of interesting issues. The article on cooking oil thefts highlights the case of of Greenlight Biofuels, which is apparently losing 5 to 10 percent of its business each month in thefts. Greenlight Biofuels apparently reprocesses the waste cooking oil into biodiesel, but the regional manager cited in the article also notes that the same used oil can be used in making animal feed, which he says pays more for oil than biodiesel refineries. If that’s true, then that means that all of the government’s various market interventions on behalf of biodiesel are not being very effective. From a general public policy perspective – even acknowledging the deleterious effects of biodiesel in terms of its effect on food prices, particulate matter pollution, and climate change – it seems to me that turning used vegetable oil into animal feed (supporting the highly destructive livestock industry) is not the desired outcome.

Of course, the other main lesson is that the renewable fuel credits system established in EPAct 2005 needs reform, but that’s not news.

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