Yes, we can beat our gas ‘addiction’


Experts say the price of a gallon of gas will have to hit $5 before it has an impact on consumers.

We don’t believe it. Already, Mainers, with an average round-trip commute of 37.63 miles per day, are starting to carpool. And, according to a story in Monday’s Sun Journal, 3,251 Mainers are registered in Go Maine’s database of people sharing rides or looking for a ride to share.

We have a strong belief in American ingenuity, but we also have a strong distrust of Washington politicians beholden to vested oil interests.

Among the most intriguing of possible solutions is E85. It’s a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

There are currently only 650 E85 pumps in a country that has about 200,000 filling stations. Most E85 outlets are in the Midwest, and the price of E-85 there is currently less than $2 per gallon.

General Motors has made a big commitment to this fuel, and it plans to produce about 200,000 “flex-fuel” cars this year to help nudge this alternative fuel source along.

Flex-fuel vehicles will run on either gasoline or ethanol, or on any combination of the two. It is a proven technology. For the past 15 years, every new vehicle purchased in Brazil has been flex-fuel equipped.

In addition to the lower price per gallon, the advantages over gasoline are many:

• E85 burns cleaner than gasoline, producing fewer hydrocarbon and benzene emissions compared to regular gasoline.

• Ethanol degrades more quickly in water, so leaks and spills result in less environmental damage.

• It is a completely renewable fuel and American-made. Right now, ethanol is made from corn, but anything from wood chips in Maine to sorghum in the South to alfalfa in the Northwest can be used to produce what is, essentially, grain alcohol.

• It could make us much, much less dependent on hostile and politically unstable regions of the world.

• Finally, it could put Americans to work – growing corn, cutting wood, harvesting sugar beets or even operating the plants needed to convert organic substances to ethanol.

But the danger we mentioned is also real. American oil companies could be investing in this technology, but they are not. Instead, they are looking for tax breaks in Washington and expanded drilling rights off American coasts and in ecologically sensitive regions of the U.S.

And political quick fixes won’t help, either. Opening the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve and the recent idea of sending each American a $100 government-funded gasoline “rebate” only give the illusion of a solution.

As President George W. Bush and others have said, the U.S. needs to break its foreign-oil dependency. Car pooling, buying more fuel efficient vehicles and E-85 are the innovative solutions we need.