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.

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

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