Ethanol Mandates, Carbon Emissions, and Tesla in Puerto Rico

One thing that seemed inevitable following Donald Trump’s election was that it wasn’t good news for the ethanol industry. After all, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees compliance regarding the ethanol mandates, and Administrator Scott Pruitt had long been a staunch opponent of these mandates. 

Add in the fact that Carl Icahn, majority owner of the refiner CVR Energy (NYSE: CVI), is a vocal critic of the current arrangement and that he was tapped to advise President Trump on the issue.

It seemed pretty sure that the ethanol mandates would be relaxed, and I recommended investors avoid ethanol stocks as a result. I even suggested aggressive investors consider shorting them, noting in January:

“I would urge caution with the ethanol sector in 2017, at least until the policy direction becomes clear. Aggressive investors might even consider shorting the sector given the recent run-up, as the downside seems relatively high given the risks ahead.”  

Ethanol stocks have indeed fared poorly this year. Ethanol suppliers Green Plains (NSDQ: GPRE) and Pacific Ethanol (NSDQ: PEIX) have dropped 35% and 49% year-to-date. So the advice to avoid or short ethanol stocks turned out to be right, but…

This week it was reported that President Trump personally intervened to prevent changes to the program that the EPA was preparing to make. The Hill said

“Trump, who had promised during the presidential campaign to support ethanol, intervened personally in the high-stakes matter this week. People close to the administration say the president went so far as to instruct Pruitt to back off on the potential changes.”

Ethanol companies haven’t rallied on the news. In fact, they are down across the board since the announcement was made. However, this news is bullish long-term for ethanol producers.

We’re #1!

Speaking of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, this week the Washington Post called him out for what it said “appears to be a deliberate effort to mislead the public.” In fact, I would argue that the Post got it wrong in this case.

The issue was a claim Pruitt made on Fox News that the U.S. is leading the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. 

According to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, since 2005 annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 758 million metric tons. That is by far the most substantial decline of any country in the world over that time span.

By comparison, the second largest decline during that period was registered by the United Kingdom, which reported a 170 million metric ton decline. At the same time, China’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 3 billion metric tons, and India’s increased by 1 billion metric tons.

Thus, I don’t think it’s the least bit misleading to claim that the U.S. is leading the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The thrust of the Washington Post’s criticism was that the U.S. is still one of the largest per capita emitters. That is true but beside the point. It doesn’t negate the fact that the U.S. has had the largest declines in the world. 

For a more detailed version of this story, including the reason the U.S. saw such a significant decline in emissions, see my latest article in Forbes.  

Tesla Completes a Solar Project

Following Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico, Tesla (NSDQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla’s battery technology could help Puerto Rico rebuild after the hurricane left the island’s power grid devastated. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello responded to Musk, saying “let’s talk.”

Musk may not be able to rebuild Puerto Rico’s grid with renewable energy, but Tesla announced this week on Twitter that Hospital del Nino in Puerto Rico is the “first of many” projects going live. Tesla tweeted images showing solar panels and Tesla Powerpack units being installed.

This will be an interesting experiment, but a story this week in Vox highlights the overall challenges of rebuilding the grid there with renewable power. Notably, the story contains photos of a solar farm in Puerto Rico that was demolished by the hurricane, a reminder that solar power may be just as vulnerable to these storms. 

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