AUGUSTA — Chalk one up for the little guy, and his small engines, too.
That was the sentiment of the Maine House on Wednesday as it voted 109-32 in favor of a bill that would allow the sale of ethanol-free gasoline in Maine.
A pair of bills, offered by Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, that came to the House floor with an ought-not-to-pass recommendation from the committee were overturned by the full body.
“The ethanol additive, which is a derivative of corn, amounts to us burning our food in our fuel tanks,” Timberlake said after the vote. “And with the rising numbers of Americans going hungry, this just seems like a poor use of farmland and its product.”
The bill, LD 115, would allow Maine to join other New England states in banning the use of ethanol in fuel.
The Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-6 against the bill, but the measure picked up solid bipartisan support in the House.
The second measure, LD 105, would allow Maine fuel retailers to sell gasoline with 5 percent ethanol, versus the current requirement of 10 percent.
Timberlake said the subsidies given to Midwest farmers for growing corn for ethanol creates an unfair disadvantage for Maine farmers. He said the subsidy artificially increases the cost of corn and gasoline.
That has an indirect but costly impact on Maine farmers who use corn grain to feed livestock.
“With ethanol inflating the price of corn, corn in the last 10 years has risen from $2.50 a bushel to a recent high of $8.34 a bushel,” Timberlake said. “The cost of grain has also increased. Higher feed prices are reflected in the higher prices we are all paying for dairy, poultry, beef and pork items.”
Timberlake, an apple grower and hardware store owner, said small engines are more susceptible to water contamination when ethanol fuel is used in them.
He said the bills, which face additional votes in the House and Senate, are looking out for Maine residents and their finances.
“These bills are about helping Mainers keep more money in their pocket by minimizing engine repairs, and lowering the cost of fuel and virtually all consumer goods and products,” Timberlake said.
Joining in support of the legislation were the Maine Snowmobile Association, Maine Pilots Association, Maine Rental Association, Antique Auto Clubs, Maine Small Engine Dealers, Maine Boat Dealers and the Maine Auto Dealers Association.
Those who voted against the bill said Maine should be careful in passing legislation that bucks federal regulations that require an annually increasing amount of the nation’s fuels to come from renewable sources.
“The federal government requires significant use of renewable fuel, and currently ethanol is the only viable option,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “There’s no cost-effective source of non-ethanol fuel currently available.”
Matthew Stone of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.