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Ethanol boost blocked in House

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Posted: 11 am ET

This week the U.S. House voted to block the Environmental Protection Agency from allowing E15, a blend of 85 percent gas and 15 percent ethanol, to be sold at American gas stations. From David Shepardson of the The Detroit News:

The ethanol content of gas could be going up, costing you even more at the pump

The House voted to block the EPA from moving ahead on E15.

The House voted 286-135 to block the EPA from spending any money to carry out a waiver to allow E15 to be sold at the nation's fueling stations. Currently, most gas stations sell E10 -- which is 10 percent ethanol.

The EPA has granted a waiver to allow a blend of 15 percent of ethanol to be sold for vehicles from the 2001 model year and newer.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Oklahoma, introduced an amendment to the bill to fund government operations through Sept. 30, to block EPA from moving ahead.

"The EPA has completely ignored calls from lawmakers, industry, environmental and consumer groups to address important safety issues raised by the 50 percent increase in the ethanol mandate issued over the past year. Putting E15 into our general fuel supply could adversely impact up to 60 percent of cars on the road today leading to consumer confusion at the pump and possible engine failure in the cars they drive," Sullivan said.

I'm glad to see Congress acting to rein ethanol in. If you read this blog with any frequency, you know the government-mandated use of ethanol is something of a hobbyhorse for me. I don't think the costs in terms of higher food prices, lower fuel economy and damage to small engines are worth the benefits of a few cents off each gallon of gas and reduced imports of foreign oil.

Of all the negative effects of increased ethanol production, the worst may be higher food prices. Last week Kay McDonald wrote in the New York Times that up to 15 percent of global corn production was going into American gas tanks. That's insane.

And corn isn't the only staple affected, according to McDonald:

Wheat and soy prices increase when corn prices are high, since their acreage allotment is replaced by corn. In addition, wheat and soy get substituted for corn as animal feed.

As I've said before, I'm sympathetic to the goals of reducing foreign oil dependency and reducing carbon emissions, but ethanol isn't the way to achieve them. Instead, let's push fuel economy standards higher and encourage the development of electric cars. In the long run, those actions will have  a much bigger impact on oil imports, without creating global food shortages and ruining engines in Americans' older cars and boats.

What do you think? Am I missing something? Do you support the use of ethanol in America's fuel supply?

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3 Comments
Sonny Jones
April 17, 2011 at 11:43 am

Seems a good move. As owners of a 1988 Honda and a 1994 Volvo turbo, if ethanol is bad for older engines, I'd like to know that and see the amount of ethanol in gasoline reduced rather than incerased. I don't believe it's the economy measure it's cracked up to be.

JBM
February 24, 2011 at 10:30 am

I agree with you...another problem is the subsidy to ethanol. We could have bought much cheaper ethanol from Brazil, made from sugar cane, which is much more efficient at ethanol conversion AND not a major foodsource.

Apparently the farm lobby pressured Congress. They subsidize ethanot with our tax dollars to make it appear cost competitive. That needs to stop...it should sink or stand on it's own.

Worse, the conversion factor for corn to alcohol is awful. You get 1 unit of energy for 1.5 or 1.8 units that must be used to convert it.

Ethanol is a bad trick on the American people, so politicians look like they are "doing something".