Politics might make strange bedfellows, but when environmental and industry advocacy groups hop into the sack together it gets our attention.
This is precisely what’s happening with a newly launched advertising campaign that challenges the pork-driven, pay-to-play U.S. Congress to put aside the influence – critics say bribes – of the huge contributions from agribusiness and stipulate that “objective” scientific testing be conducted before allowing an increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline. (See How a Bad Bush Administration Energy Policy Begets More Bad Policy?)
At stake here is not only the fuel economy, operating cost, and performance of your vehicle, but also potentially huge negative effects on all small engines, powering everything from lawn mowers, to outboard motors, to weed whackers, to chain saws – to name but a few.
Taxpayers currently subsidize corn ethanol at the rate of 45 cents a gallon, or roughly $6 billion last year.
From an automotive perspective there are two clear central issues:
- The first is how to decrease emissions and our dependence on imports of foreign oil from terrorist supporting countries.
- The second is a subset of the first: what if the biofuels we are using — ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas — really cause more emissions than they save?
That’s why how the EPA calculates the “life cycle emissions effects” is of such concern to the currently subsidized businesses, the agricultural lobby and various clean air special interest groups.
The U.S. is under Congressional mandate to use increasing amounts of renewable fuels because of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. EPA is responsible for revising and implementing regulations to ensure that gasoline sold in the United States contains a minimum volume of renewable fuels. The Renewable Fuel Standard program will increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into gasoline from 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. At one point, the goal under President Bush was 35 billion/2017.
Almost every gallon of gasoline now sold in the U.S. contains ethanol: 98% as E10 – which means up to 10% ethanol for conventional autos and 2% as E85 – which means 85% ethanol/15% gasoline for use in flex fuel vehicles only. (Please see Renewable Fuel Fight Over Agricultural Subsidies and Emissions Continues as EPA Works on Rules)
Current law and infrastructure preclude the use of greater than 10% ethanol blends in conventional autos, although agricultural industry lobbyists are pushing for higher levels. In 2012, the E10 market reaches saturation at approximately 12.5 – 14 billion gallons of ethanol annually. (See President Takes Steps to Boost Biofuels, Coal Use) EPA is considering upping the required amount of ethanol right now, but isn’t due to rule until this late this fall.
The anti ethanol groups have raised strong concerns about consumer safety and environmental protection, but what’s interesting to me is the coalition involved in the opposition. “Say NO to untested E15” is part of a larger effort to persuade Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency to reject calls by the ethanol industry to allow the amount of ethanol in gasoline to increase by 50%.
The groups are contacting members of Congress and have posted their first ad and other material warning against higher levels of ethanol without adequate testing on the Web site www.FollowtheScience.org.
Ethanol burns hotter than gasoline and corrodes soft metals, plastics and rubber. The groups collectively believe more testing is needed to determine how much ethanol is too much for different types of existing engines to use safely without risking engine failure that could leave a boat stranded at sea, a snowmobile stuck in subfreezing temperatures in a wilderness blizzard, or a motorcycle unable to move in the blazing heat of a desert.
“Some ethanol companies want consumers to pump first and ask questions later,” said National Petrochemical & Refiners Association President Charles T. Drevna. “Rather than run a giant science experiment on the vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment owned by just about every American family, we believe Congress and the EPA have a responsibility to protect the public. They shouldn’t authorize E15 unless full and complete scientific testing confirms it’s safe and compatible with all gasoline-powered engines.”
The sponsors of the ad are: Environmental Working Group; Natural Resources Defense Council; The Hispanic Institute; Engine Manufacturers Association; International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association; Motorcycle Industry Council; National Marine Manufacturers Association; Outdoor Power Equipment Institute; American Frozen Food Institute; American Meat Institute; Grocery Manufacturers Association; Snack Food Association; American Petroleum Institute; National Association of Truck Stop Operators; National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.
The ad is illustrated by four color photos of people next to stalled vehicles and equipment – a snowmobile, a car, a riding lawnmower and a boat – under the headline: “Don’t let the ethanol industry leave you stranded.”
“Congress shouldn’t rush to judgment based on politics,” the ad says. “It should wait for the completion of thorough and objective scientific tests and act to protect your safety and our environment.
“Increasing hot-burning ethanol from 10% (E10) to 15% (E15) of gasoline could harm some engines,” the ad continues. “E15 has never been thoroughly tested to determine if it’s safe for engines in the cars, boats and outdoor power equipment used by millions of Americans every day.”
“As environmentalists and public health advocates, we’re concerned that more corn ethanol in our gasoline would lead to more dangerous pollutants coming out our tailpipes and ending up in our lungs, cause more forests to be cut down for planting, put fragile lands under the tractor and use up scarce water resources,” said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.