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Organization claims ethanol's damage to economy will soar to three-quarter trillion dollars a year by 2015

For ethanol advocates, 2013 has been a disappointing year.  Complaining that "breaking the blending wall" and pumping E15 out to stations would damage older vehicles, automakers and motorists united to petition the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a waiver.  

Despite the apparent win of shooting down that waiver, ethanol producers saw the economics start to catch up to them.  With refinery growth grinding to a halt due in large part to the elimination of government grants for ethanol producers, 2013 production levels are expected to miss their target of 16.55 billion gallons.  As a result the EPA has given refiners an additional 6 months to meet that target, effectively a cut to the 2013 target.

I. Big Oil -- Ethanol Target Will Cost U.S. Economy a Quarter Trillion Dollars

Now the top two industry organizations of "big oil" -- The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) -- have looked to push the EPA to make further cuts.

The EPA announced that refiners must blend in 18.15 billion gallons during 2014 or face fines, under The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007's (EISA) [PDF] Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) terms.  The oil indstry advocacies want that target to be slashed 3.35 billion gallons, to 14.8 billion gallons.  While that's technically a higher 12 month production level than the 2013 EPA-approved level (with the 6-month extension factored in), the oil producers are willing to live with that small increase as long as production stays at E10 levels or below.

Oil industry organizations claims that the 2014 ethanol target will cost the economy $250B USD next year. [Image Source: Independent Refiners]

In a press release they write:

This action is necessary to avoid the severe economic harm that will result from exceeding the 10 percent ethanol blendwall. Beyond 10 percent, the corrosive nature of ethanol renders the blended fuel incompatible with today’s engines, vehicles and the multi-billion dollar infrastructure in place throughout the nation. Waiving the 2014 volumes is the only available solution to avert the potentially disastrous implications of the blendwall.

The organizations claims that if no waiver is granted the RFS will cause a $270B USD dent to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014 a $770B USD hit in 2015 (which calls for 20.5 billion gallons, tentatively).  They cite data [PDF] from a study they commissioned by the National Economic Research Associates, Inc. (NERA) as supporting that number.

II. EPA Admitted a Waiver May be Necessary

AFPM President Charles T. Drevna, a former Sunoco, Inc. (SUN) executive, remarks:

The negative impacts of the RFS will be extreme and will undoubtedly hurt consumers. If EPA does not act, the inability to blend the statutory-mandated amount of ethanol could lead to domestic fuel supply shortages and ultimately cause severe economic harm to consumers and the economy.

EPA has the opportunity to curtail the harmful effects of the policy next year by waiving the 2014 volumes before more economic damage is done.  I expect it will take American families into consideration when it makes its decision.

EPA missed a golden opportunity to address the ethanol blendwall in 2013; however, we’re encouraged the Agency recognized there is a problem in its rule setting this year’s biofuel requirement. This petition will provide a roadmap for the Agency to follow as it promulgates its 2014 waiver.

The EPA seeming left the door open to a potential RFS waiver, writing in its finalization of targets:

This notice also acknowledges that there are constraints in the market’s ability to consume renewable fuels at the volumes specified in the Clean Air Act in future years, and states that the EPA anticipates proposing adjustments to the 2014 volume requirements in the 2014 rule to address these constraints.

The Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) -- the big ethanol/big corn industry's largest advocacy firm -- has not responded to the waiver request.  

A waiver would be another hit to big corn's E15 plans. [Image Source: Digital Trends]

They did issue a press release last week, that suggests that ethanol production may be a bit higher than expected in 2013 due to a strong harvest and another press release that cites research suggesting that E85 (a higher ethanol blend for special certified vehicles) may be a route for refiners/station owners to circumvent the E15 issue and avoid vehicle damage while using more fuel.  (The latter press release aside, the RFA takes issue with automakers claims that E15 will damage older vehicles, claiming they're colluding with the oil industy to damage alternative fuels.)

Source: AFPM/API [press release]

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By toffty on 8/19/2013 12:37:16 PM , Rating: 2
Best solution to this whole problem? Get an electric car. Electricity is cheap, very little price fluctuation (once per year at most), and there's no worry about how it comes as it's just electrons on a standardized electrical system.

By superflex on 8/19/2013 2:14:21 PM , Rating: 2
All electric cars are niche autos. Basically a second car for people who can afford a specialty commuter vehicle.
The average Joe cannot afford a second car, especially one which can maybe go 100 miles before needing a multi-hour recharge.

By Mint on 8/19/2013 5:39:25 PM , Rating: 2
Of households with a car, 62% of them have more than one.

It's not expected for an average Joe to buy an EV when he only needs one car. The idea is for 2, 3, 4-car households to have at least one of them electric to take as many trips as possible without really sacrificing anything, and saving money, too. Eventually there will be a used market for them, too.

Having said that, we're a long way from having enough EVs to displace as much gasoline as ethanol. And as much as I hate that we developed this useless technology, it achieved its goal of creating homegrown fuel (now at least free of direct subsidies), and the intention was for cellulosic ethanol to replace corn. Way back in 2008 companies were promising $1/gal corn-free ethanol.

Who knows where gas prices would be if we didn't go down this road. As for the subject of this article, the EPA will reduce targets just like it always does.

By Reclaimer77 on 8/19/2013 6:10:48 PM , Rating: 2
You know the free EV ride is temporary right?

You don't pay road taxes like ICE owners. Your "fuel" is extremely cheap, you even get a kickback for buying one.

But if you think this is going to last forever, you're nutty. If EV's become mainstream we can expect several outcomes. The most obvious being utility rates increasing dramatically from new taxation and the increased usage on the grid.

Enjoy it while you can, because I don't see this free ride lasting forever.

By Mint on 8/19/2013 8:07:02 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I know the credit is temporary, and that's by design. High battery costs are also temporary.

Road taxes are being charged to EV owners in many states, and you're going about it backwards anyway. They should be lessened for most people and raised on heavy-duty vehicles. A study found that a loaded 18-wheeler does ~10,000x the road damage of a car per mile, but it'll only pay maybe 5-10x as much in gas tax.

Utility rates will NOT increase dramatically, and you would know that if you had the slightest analytic ability.

EVs overwhelmingly charge at night and aren't a big load anyway. You could put 10 million EVs on the road (which will take a decade at least), doing a total of 120 billion miles per year on ~35TWh of electricity, and it would use less than 1% of US electricity generation. Night chargers are overpaying for electricity everywhere without time-of-use infrastructure.

Unless OPEC decides to voluntarily break up its cartel, oil will always be many times more expensive than electricity.

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