It's time to phase out ethanol gas

Say we had a product that consumers hated, that drove up food and gasoline prices and that caused as much or more environmental damage than a similar, less costly product. What would our government do about it?

Force us to use more, of course.

That's the illogical direction we are headed since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authorized a small-scale test of 15 percent ethanol gasoline in a handful of corn-producing states.

Unless Congress intervenes, we may see 15 percent ethanol gasoline at our pumps in the coming year, boosting by 5 percent the amount of ethanol now mandated in our gasoline.

In response, the Maine Legislature has been working on a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, that would allow the sale of 5 percent ethanol gas and perhaps eliminate ethanol when two other New England states do the same.

Timberlake's bill got solid support two weeks ago when the House approved it 109-32.

Last week, the Senate swung the other way, voting against the ethanol bill 21-14, concerned by reports that banning ethanol might increase the cost of gasoline by between 50 and 75 cents per gallon in Maine.

By now, most people are familiar with damage done by ethanol to small motors. It gums up carburetors and eats away at plastic hoses and washers.

Others realize it has increased the cost of a wide variety of food products, from soft drinks to beef, by reducing the corn available for food production.

Some have seen the studies showing that making and burning ethanol causes as much or more environmental damage as straight gasoline.

And the real students of the subject are aware that cars and trucks using ethanol get worse fuel mileage and have less power than those using gasoline.

The upside is . . .

Sorry, no upside, unless you count the benefit to corn farmers, who want the rest of us to pay higher prices for their product.

So why is the federal EPA pushing us to increase the use of ethanol from 10 to 15 percent?

The answer is a combination of government inanity and insanity. Please follow closely.

A decade ago, when it didn't seem as if the U.S. would ever achieve energy independence, ethanol seemed like a good idea. We would grow our own fuel to keep us from importing more and more.

So, Congress established a massive incentive program for corn farmers to produce the costly fuel additive. That means your tax money is used to help offset the higher cost of the added ethanol.

In 2005, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard, requiring the U.S. to use an increasing amount of ethanol over the next 15 years, starting with 9 billion gallons in 2008 and increasing to 22 billion gallons in 2022, according to an excellent article in the March 25 issue of "The Economist."

One problem: The formula was based upon Americans consuming more and more gasoline.

Then came the the recession, which slashed the amount of gasoline used, and advances in auto technology, like hybrids, which cut gasoline consumption more.

New fuel economy standards will further cut gasoline consumption far into the future.

As a result, we are now producing more ethanol than we can consume at the 10 percent ratio.

The ethanol program is a classic government boondoggle, but it has hard-core support in corn-growing states where rural communities have prospered.

The problem for states like Maine is that we are paying for a farm-price support program with higher taxes, lower gas mileage, more smog, higher prices and small motors that won't work.

Congress should repeal the section of the 2005 law mandating greater production of ethanol and then set us on a gradual course to remove ethanol from gasoline entirely.

In the meantime, bravo to Timberlake and the Legislature for exploring ways to get us out of this mess even more quickly.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Wanna read something

Wanna read something scary?
Albrecht, Dosh, Early, Theriault, and the Pirate are all in agreement on something. How odd can it get?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Count me in too. Let’s get

Count me in too.

Let’s get rid of this corporate subsidy. ADM is the biggest benefactor.

Consider this one of those rare events like when all the planets align. If the world does not end, it will certainly be one of those once in a lifetime events.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

That's why we are the UNITED

That's why we are the UNITED States of America. We may bicker over the petty crap, but on the important issues that affect our wallets, we are of one mind and purpose. Must have been that way in the the days of the Founders.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

We are not always on the same

We are not always on the same page when it comes to finances. All you have to do is read how many here want more tax'n and spend'n.

Like I said, this is just one of those rare events when the planets aligned.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Agreed.

Agreed.

AL PELLETIER's picture

Gets even scarier

I'm in too.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It matters not what our

It matters not what our political or ideological inclinations are. We are ALL getting screwed at the pumps.

 's picture

Add me to that list.

I lost count of the number of small engine items - lawn mowers, weed whackers, etc - destroyed by that crap. Or, at best, needing annual servicing, or more frequently. I finally learned my lesson and spend even more money for "additives" to neutralize it back to plain ol' gas.

I would like to send a bill to the politician responsible for foisting this boondoggle on Mainers.

As long as I'm grousing, I would like to send a bill, and a box full of duds, to the dim-bulb who foisted CFL bulbs on us.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I don't have a problem with

I don't have a problem with the CFLs themselves, although having to call for a HAZMAT team if you break one makes me little antsy. The part that bothers me is that they've made incandescents a restricted item. I'm not sure, but I think we can thank Baldacci for that one, but regardless of who's at fault, this situation should not be happening in America. We should be free to buy any freakin' bulb we want and our gasoline should not be contaminated with a food product.

Jason Theriault's picture

CFL suck, go LED

CFL's are crap. They break too easily, and cleaning up after one is a pain in the ass.

You can blame 110th congress for that, not Maine at all

Anyway, LED s are the future. Super efficient and not even remotely fragile.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Understood.

Understood.

Zack Lenhert's picture

...and dimmable with better

...and dimmable with better color spectrum.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Personally I feel it's not the polititions this time..

No, I think this time around it's the "Lobbyist's". Let's face it, those guys really can sell, and politicians really buy it. We can't win until we do something about corporate lobbyist's. They don't care, it's the money. Give a lobbyists enough money and they could sell the Brooklyn Bridge, to the Mayor of New York City.
As long as politicians listen and vote, based in the begging and pleading of lobbyist's instead of the actual facts, there isn't much point in discussing it.
I feel a much more demonstrative response to the problem. If the 15% mixture ever passes, and my outboard motor or my lawnmower engine fails, which it will. I plan on sending every repair bill, probably numerous times, to my Senator. If I had the "Lobbyist's" address, I'd ship the broken motor to them, postage due...................

 's picture

No, its not a boondoggle; but it is a very complex disaster

Corn ethanol reduces Federal farm subsidies by $6 billion/year. Corn ethanol has created High Fructose Corn Syrup, a by-product, which if you check in the Grocery store is used to sweeten almost every prepared food and a major cause of obesity and diabetes and other chronic diseases. Corn ethanol primarily benefits Monsanto because most corn is grown from Monsanto GMO corm seeds. Unlike natural seeds farmers can not collected seeds from corn they have grown to use in the next year's planting. The cost of the seeds used in planting an acre of corn has increase from $40 to $245 in a few years.
Just a small list of impacts to add to this fine editorial.
Get corn ethanol out of gasoline.

Steve  Dosh's picture

It's time to phase out ethanol gas

Ed ? Tueday night 20:30 hst
It is past time to phase out ethanol charged gasoline . In a place like Maine or Alaska one finds that vegetable oil freezes at -40ºF . That's what it is . Veg oil . Now if we lived in a place like Brazil , Barbados or Cuba where they have a - s u r p l u s - of sugar cane derived fuel product it might possibly make sense
It doesn't make any sense here in these very U S of A
Feed the corn to pigs , cows & fowl instead . Pork . The other white meat
hth /s Steve http://geo-energy.org/

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Ethanol is not veg. oil,

Ethanol is not veg. oil, Steve. It is ethynol alcohol. It does not increase in viscosity in cold weather. It does suck, though....the life right out of an internal combustion engine. I've experienced a 5% drop in gas mileage for each 5% of ethanol in our gasoline.
Government involvement in any matter almost always brings about the exact opposite of its stated intention.

Jason Theriault's picture

Here here

Ethanol is bad.
I mean, there is no level with it is good.
It lowers fuel economy
It ruins engines
Making it produces lots of pollutants, far more than are saved by adding it to gas

Worst of all it raises food prices across the board. This cannot be overstated. Not only because increased demand for corn has raised prices for corn, or that corn, being a feed for animals, raises the price for meat, dairy, eggs, ect... But farmers plant more corn at the expense of other crops, which also see a price increase.

Really, much like the tax breaks for oil companies, it's a major kickback to the agri corporations like Monsanto and ADM, who are making out like gangbusters at the expense of just about everyone else on Earth, not just the United States.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Make that ethyl

Make that ethyl alcohol.....(damn parrot).

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