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  (Source: Center for Environment and Commerce)
Vote is cheered by environmentalists, jeered by corn coalition

Don't like the price of your shopping cart at The Kroger Comp. (KG)?  Blame corn ethanol.

I. Corn Ethanol is Rolled Back

That's what a government sponsored study says [PDF].  The 2008 study found corn ethanol demand was responsible for jacking up food prices on some corn heavy items an estimated 20 percent or more.  What's more, automakers say that the use of higher ethanol blends will shorten the life of engines, causing hundreds of millions in warranty claims.  And several studies have even indicated that ethanol increases atmospheric carbon emissions, when one of the key goals of alternative fuels is to go "carbon neutral".

Yet the alternative fuel's proponents claim that it’s tantamount to defending the nation.  They point to instability in top U.S. oil supplying regions like the Middle East and Venezuela, and hoist corn ethanol as the U.S. sole alternative to trade with these dangerous parties.  They also say that ethanol is boosting a core sector of the U.S. economy -- the farming industry.

But as public support for the fuel wanes, for better or worse it appears the critics are winning.  A key vote (H.R. 3199; PDF) in the House has silence a bid by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put more ethanol at the pump -- for now.

Corn ethanol handouts
The federal handouts are finally ending for corn ethanol. [Image Source: AP]

The recent rollbacks began with a back and forth game of political theater; the House and Senate finally killed the multi-billion dollar ethanol subsidy [1][2][3].  That left only the EPA's fuel-blending mandates, which have promoted ethanol by mandating that gasoline at the pump be blended with a certain level of ethanol.

The EPA hoped to roll out E15 this year, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.  This is the highest ethanol blend that has ever been pushed out on the mass market.  Today most of the fuel sold in the U.S. is E10 -- a lower ethanol blend of 10 percent ethanol, 90 percent gas.  The EPA claims that it knows more about cars that the companies that designs them, insisting that the automakers don't know what they're talking about and the high-ethanol blend would be harmless to engines.

II. House Vote Derails E15

But the House Science Committee on Wed. passed a proposal by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) to defund the EPA's push for E15, leaving it essentially dead.
  

The resolution was supported by(19: 0 Dem., 19 Repub.):
Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) [contact]           Rep. James Sensenbrenner [contact]
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) [contact]       Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) [contact]
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Mary.) [contact]    Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) [contact]
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) [contact] Rep. Michael McCaul, Sr. (R-Tex.) [contact]
Rep. Paul Broun, M.D. (R-Geor.) [contact]   Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Flor.) [contact]
Rep. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) [contact]         Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) [contact]
Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Virg.) [contact]         Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Alab.) [contact]
Rep. Andy Harris, M.D. (R-Mary.) [contact]    Rep. Randy Hultrgren (Ill.) [contact]
Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) [contact]   Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) [contact]
Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) [contact]

And opposed by (7: 6 Dem., 1 Repub.):
Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.) [contact]
Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) [contact]
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) [contact]
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Mary.) [contact]
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) [contact]
Rep. Ben Luján (D-N.M.) [contact]
Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) [contact]

[source -- votes]

While the bill shoots down the E15 blending, it does leave the door open to ongoing research by the National Academy of Sciences.  It orders evaluating ethanol's benefits versus risks as a priority for the government research funder.

III. Passage Earns Praise, Condemnation

Rep. Sensenbrenner cheers the passage, stating:

I am pleased that the Committee voted today to put science before politics.  When it comes to a decision of this magnitude that would impact every American who owns a car, boat, or lawnmower, we must base our decisions on sound science, not political expediency.  The Administration has fast tracked E15 without considering that increasing the percentage of ethanol in our gasoline will cause premature engine failure, lower fuel efficiency, and void vehicle warranties.  In small engines, E15 is downright dangerous and the EPA has no credible plan to stop mis-fueling.  If ethanol is going to be the ‘fuel of the future,’ then there should be no problem conducting independent, comprehensive scientific analysis of its effect on American drivers.

The bill earned the Republicans praise from an unlikely ally -- environmentalists.  The group Friends of the Earth opposed the bill, which it saw as pushing a dirty fuel.  The group, which has referred to corn ethanol as a "con" in past press releases, wrote a letter of support [PDF] for the resolution to defund E15 and bump funding for E15 impact research.

Tom Buis, CEO of corn ethanol producer coalition Growth Energy, blasted the bill, though, stating:

This is a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer dollars. No fuel blend has been tested as thoroughly as E15. No fuel blend has undergone the level of scrutiny E15 has – and passed the tests like E15 did. They’ve been looking at E15 for more than three years. Now Rep. Sensenbrenner wants to move the goal posts again – a move that would only add more red tape and regulation. This would do nothing to help the American consumer, but only continues our reliance on the OPEC monopoly.

Domestic ethanol creates American jobs. Foreign oil drains American money out of our economy – and puts it to work in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Caracas. We want jobs in American cities. Only American industries – like U.S. ethanol – will create those jobs. Foreign oil costs American families more money at the pump, hurting the consumers. Let’s not create more hurdles and regulation that prevent those jobs from being created.

Ethanol jobs
Ethanol producers say the fuel creates "green" jobs, and that the new resolution hurts Americans. [Image Source: RFA]

Growth Energy claims that past studies indicating higher net life cycle carbon emissions were flawed.  It claims that the E15 enforcement would have created 136,000 jobs and cut carbon emissions by 8 million metric tons.  The group says the resolution adds "red tape", a slightly ironic phrasing, given that the resolution was a move to strike a piece of government regulation.

Sources: U.S. House, EPA, Growth Energy



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

As said below
By c4v3man on 2/8/2012 2:56:06 PM , Rating: 2
Hopefully they'll keep writing legislation, and allow us to buy E0 again... I would love to get better mileage.




RE: As said below
By corduroygt on 2/8/2012 3:37:57 PM , Rating: 2
At what barrel price for oil does using E10 over E0 become cheaper? I'm just curious, is it around $200?


RE: As said below
By kjboughton on 2/8/2012 3:59:29 PM , Rating: 3
E10 wouldn't be economically viable if it weren't for the massive government subsidies being provide for its production.

So you tell us, what's the cost to you today? Because the money needed to support this industry comes from one of two sources:

(1) Taxes you pay (yeah, whatever, the money you pay the federal government is going before you even send it in), or

(2) Funds borrowed at interest which then, you, the same taxpayer must labor and toil to pay for the rest of your life

Seems to me it would be cheaper for all if we allowed the individual consumers the choice for themselves what types of fuel they would use in their personal conveyance.

So it seems to me we are unable to answer your question until you first quantify the true cost of E10 today. We'll just wait until you get back to us on this before debating further, shall we?


RE: As said below
By corduroygt on 2/8/2012 4:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
I don't get the confrontational argument...I was merely asking a question.
The right thing to do for me would be to end the subsidies and let the market decide. I'm sure if the barrel price of oil shot up enough, it'd eventually be cheaper to run on some blend of ethanol...I was just wondering what that price was.


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