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White House Moves to Reduce Use of Ethanol

Biofuel law falling short of expectations – even as criticism grows.

by on Nov.18, 2013

A corn showdown?

It’s been a rare hallmark of bipartisanship in recent years, but the Obama Administration is now looking to scale back the once-promising biofuel law enacted during the Bush White House.

The move recognizes that consumers have shown little interest in filling up on ethanol – even as criticism of the renewable fuel grows, some critics contending the law may actually be doing as much harm as good to the environment.

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The law passed in 2007 has required a steady increase in the use of ethanol – almost all of it currently being produced from corn.  Last year, reports the federal Energy Information Administration, 13.3 billion gallons were blended into the nation’s gasoline supply, slightly ahead of the 13.2 billion gallon mandate. But the sale of E85 fuel, which uses 85% ethanol and just 15% of gasoline, has lagged expectations despite significant discounting at the pump.

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EPA Won’t Waive Ethanol Mandate

Critics cited shortages of corn in wake of summer drought.

by on Nov.19, 2012

A corn showdown?

The Environmental Protection Agency has declined to waive a federal mandate setting increased requirements for use of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply despite concerns about shortages of the corn used to create the fuel in the wake of last summer’s nationwide drought.

The agency, which oversees the ethanol rules, rejected a request by eight governors and 200 members of Congress – as well as many farmers dependent upon corn feed — but opposed by corn farmers who have been seeing a spike in prices as demand for ethanol increases. A senior United Nations official also sought a waiver by the Obama Administration to prevent possible food shortages around the world.

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“We recognize that this year’s drought has created hardship in some sectors of the economy, particularly for livestock producers,” said Gina McCarthy, the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “But our extensive analysis makes clear that congressional requirements for a waiver have not been met and that waiving the (ethanol rules) will have little, if any, impact.”

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EPA May Slash Use of Ethanol in Gasoline

Drought creating potential shortages of corn stock.

by on Oct.12, 2012

The EPA may shift corn away from ethanol use to reduce demand on drought-impacted farms.

Only months ago, the EPA was pressing hard to expand the use of ethanol in the nation’s gasoline supply, but in the wake of this summer’s fierce drought, the agency may soon reverse course and actually trim back because of shortages of corn used to produce the renewable fuel.

Senator Orrin Hatch, an influential Utah Republic this week urged the EPA to curb ethanol requirements, as have 200 members of the House and the governors of eight corn-producing states. Under a 2007 law signed by former President George Bush, 15.2 billion gallons of ethanol would need to be used this year, with the plan to more than double that by 2022.

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But the viability of that plan came under sharp inspection when, yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast a sharp decline in farm grain output predicting next year’s global corn stockpiles will 5.4% – to the lowest levels in 39 years.  The USDA warned that only 23% of American corn crop yields are in “good” or “excellent” shape compared with 70% last year.

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E15 Fuel Could Wreck Engines, Study Warns

New study shows “adverse results” from increasing ethanol use.

by on May.17, 2012

Pumps serving up the new E15 blend must display this warning label to motorists.

A new study suggests the federal government’s decision to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline could have “adverse results,” which several industry trade groups say translates into the likelihood it could wreck some engines.

Federal regulators last year upped the percentage of ethanol it wants used in gas from 10% to 15% — what’s known in the trade as E15.  While many of today’s vehicles can handle that and even go up to an 85% blend of the alcohol-based additive many trade groups, as well as classic car owners, howled in protest, warning that the increase might cause damage to older vehicles.

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They also cautioned that other gas-powered machines, such as marine engines, lawn mowers, generators and chainsaws could be damaged.

A new study by the Coordinating Research Council, or CRC – a trade group supported by eight major global automakers – warns that the critics are right.  While the make-up of the CRC might lead some to question its motives, and thus its findings, the study was actually conducted by FEV, a company that has long served as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Will E85 Vanish from the Market?

End of subsidy likely to further weaken demand.

by on Jun.17, 2011

If the House approves a measure already passed by the Senate, U.S. taxpayers will no longer subsidize ethanol fuels.

Members of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will now get their chance to prove how serious they are about cutting the budget deficit – even at the expense of political sacred cows – when they consider a proposed measure eliminating nearly $6 billion a year in subsidies for ethanol  production.

The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, by a lopsided 73 – 27 vote that found even some farm state lawmakers agreeing to end the giveaway.  That measure would also lift a 54-cent a gallon tariff on biofuel from Brazil that had helped hold prices on ethanol and E85 fuels above what the market might have otherwise allowed.

Unless the measure falls flat in the House or receives an unlikely White House veto, ethanol-based fuels, such as E85, will likely become significantly more expensive. In turn, that could effectively kill its use as an automotive alternative fuel. But the cost to the nation’s farmers could be significant.

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While both of Michigan’s senators voted to maintain the subsidy for U.S.-made ethanol — reflecting the state’s large corn farm lobby — the mood has been clearly shifting in recent times.  Only a few years ago, General Motors had funded an elaborate “Go Yellow” marketing campaign designed to build support for E85, a fuel made up of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.  But industry insiders say GM and other makers had supported the use of the biofuel primarily because it let them slip through loopholes in federal fuel economy standards.

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Obama Wants to Slash Oil Imports, Shift Govt. Fleet to Green Vehicles

Outlines energy policy calling for shift to cleaner fuels.

by on Mar.30, 2011

President Obama discussing energy policy.

President Barack Obama, warning there are “no quick fixes,” outlined a broad energy policy that he hopes will win broad bipartisan support at a time when oil prices have hit their highest levels in three years.

A key goal will be to better access untapped sources of domestic sources of oil and gas even as the nation moves forward on a goal of trimming petroleum imports by a third by 2025, the president declared during a speech today at Washington’s Georgetown University.

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Among other key goals, the government will move to buy only hybrids, plug-ins and other advanced technology vehicles for its vast fleet of 600,000 vehicles by 2015.

“Presidents and politicians of every stripe have promised energy independence but that promise has so far gone unmet,” the president noted.  “That has to change. We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” he said.

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EPA Approves Even Broader Use of Ethanol

Feds say increased alcohol content safe for older cars.

by on Jan.21, 2011

The EPA opens up a beaker of, er, worms with its mandate calling for expanded use of ethanol.

Following up on a controversial decision, last October, requiring the increased use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline by relatively new cars, trucks and crossovers, the Environmental Protection Agency has expanded that ruling to include models dating back to 2001.

The move is expected to generate even more opposition – and potential legal efforts to block the decision.  If allowed the stand, roughly two-thirds of all cars on the road will soon be using E15, rather than older E10 fuel.

The EPA’s announcement, last October, took a Solomon-like stand, calling for the switch to E15 – which is made up of 15% alcohol and 85% gasoline – for cars produced since 2007.  The agency delayed a decision on older models pending further studies to see if the higher ethanol content might result in damage to fuel tanks, fuel lines or engines.  After determining E15 was safe, EPA regulators decided to expand its use for models produced as far back as 2001.

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But the debate is certain to continue.  In December, a coalition of automakers signed on to participate in a lawsuit aimed at blocking the switch to E15.  Along with marine engine and power tool makers, they contend that the increased level of alcohol, a corrosive, may damage older vehicles not intentionally modified for its use.

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Americans Curbing Thirst For Gasoline

Start of a long decline, experts predict.

by on Dec.22, 2010

Americans are pumping less gasoline every year.

There was a time when there seemed to be a gas station on every corner in America, and lines waiting to fill up.  But after hitting its peak in 2006, the U.S. thirst for gasoline may have finally hit its peak and is showing signs of what could be a long decline.

As 2010 draws to a close, U.S. gasoline consumption is expected to average out to about 8.2 million barrels a day, a full 8% less than the peak, four years earlier, government data shows.  And the actual figure is slightly less, since that number isn’t adjusted to reflect the ethanol that’s now blended into much of the gasoline pumped at the steadily dwindling number of service stations dotting American roads.

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By 2030, projects a study by Deutsche Bank, demand could dip as low as 5.4 million barrels a day – barely what the U.S. consumed in 1969.  Other research suggests that figure is too low, but most forecast a dip below 7 million barrels.

A variety of factors appear to be leading to the decline: more fuel-efficient vehicles are a lead factor.  Today’s typical automobile gets well more than double the mileage of the vehicles that were on the road in the 1970s, during the days of the first oil shocks.  The Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard is set to jump from 27 miles per gallon to 35.5 mpg by 2016.  And, while federal regulators have delayed a decision on what follows, the Obama Administration is clearly in favor of bumping the CAFE figure to as much as 62 mpg by 2025.

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Automakers Sue To Block Expanded Ethanol Usage

Makers claim renewable fuel could damage engines.

by on Dec.21, 2010

Automakers join a lawsuit aimed at blocking the expanded use of ethanol in gasoline.

While most automakers have been encouraging motorists to use ethanol-based E85 fuels in their latest “FlexFuel” models, the industry has joined a lawsuit aiming to block a government-mandated increase in the use of ethanol for older vehicles.

The controversy surrounds a mid-October decision by the Environmental Protection Agency which aimed to increase the amount of ethanol used in gasoline from the current 10% to 15%.  The EPA claims that this partial waiver – which only covers vehicles produced since the 2007 model-year is safe.  But the auto industry and others contend that ethanol could damage the engines of vehicles that haven’t been specifically designed to use it.

The lawsuit was originally filed by Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.  Those groups are now joined by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the Detroit Big Three, Toyota and eight other companies.

The EPA had actually hoped to head off a confrontations with its modified October ruling.  After an extensive delay, the agency approved use of so-called E15 fuel – made up of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol – for relatively late-model cars and trucks, while further delaying a decision on still older products.  The move would require refiners and their service stations to operate two sets of pumps, one for E15 blends, the other for the current E10 blend, which uses just 10% ethanol.

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But opponents contend that even that slight increase in the amount of the alcohol fuel – typically produced from crops like corn – can be corrosive and that ethanol blends burn hotter, which can further damage engines.

“The safe and reliable use of those products is paramount to us and our customers, and the legal action we take today is to protect those customers,” said Kris Kiser, a spokesman for the Engine Products Group, an umbrella organization representing the various participants in the suit to block the EPA mandate.

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EPA Gives Limited Waiver For Use Of E15 Gasoline

Increased ethanol levels okayed – but only for vehicles from 2007 or later.

by on Oct.13, 2010

EPA approves E15 - with strict limits.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved a controversial proposal to increase the use of ethanol in the nation’s automotive fuel supply – but set strict limits on which vehicles can and can’t use what is referred to as E15.

Initially, only vehicles produced in the 2007 model-year or later will be permitted to fill up on E15, a term that refers to a blend of 85% conventional gasoline and 15% ethanol, an alcohol-based fuel typically produced from grains and other food crops.

Even with that limitation, “That represents more than 1/3 the gasoline consumption today” could be affected by the decision and converted from today’s limit of no more than 10% ethanol, explained EPA Assistant Administrator Regina McCarthy.

And by 2014, as older vehicles head to the junkyard, while newer models take their place, E15 could grow to as much as 50% of the fuel used in the U.S., the EPA official added.

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The figures actually may grow even larger.  Due to limited resources the environmental agency focused its initial study on relatively new vehicles.  It is hoping to complete an expanded study, covering cars, trucks and crossovers produced as far back as the 2001 model-year, with a decision to come by sometime in November or December, according to McCarthy.

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