Chicago aldermen endorse higher ethanol push

Source: By Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune • Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2014

 Ald. Ed Burke on E15 gasoline proposal

Larger Chicago gas stations could have less than a year to start offering fuel with higher levels of ethanol under a plan a key City Council committee endorsed Monday.

The 11-5 vote by the Finance Committee came after hours of debate featuring such dramatically different views that Ald. Rey Colon, 35th, declared the arguments as “a battle of the snake-oil vendors or something.”

The debate pitted big petroleum against big agriculture, with each spending tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists, publicists and ads in the months leading up to the vote.

Big ag, led by corn producers whose product is the prime ingredient in U.S. ethanol and allied with some environmental groups and the American Lung Association of Illinois, said the move would provide less-expensive gas, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost the Illinois economy.

Big oil, allied with gas station owners, other retailers and the AAA Auto Group, said the move would not provide cheaper gas, do little if anything to help the environment, possibly harm certain engines and push gas station owners and their associated convenience stores out of the city.

“It’s being said that this is going to be better for the local environment, that this is going to save people money, but we’ve seen no evidence that either one of those is actually accurate,” said Tanya Triche, vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “Think about the revenue, the sales tax revenue, the gas tax revenue, that will go across the border if gas stations end up having to go out of business because they can’t afford to make these repairs.”

If approved by the full council, Chicago would become the first major city in the country to require many of its gas stations to provide pumps for fuel known as E15 that contains up to 15 percent ethanol. Currently, stations offer E10, with up to 10 percent ethanol.

The requirement would apply to stations that pump more than 850,000 gallons of fuel a year — or what’s estimated to be about 110 of the city’s 404 licensed stations. They would have 360 days to install the pumps. Marinas would be exempt.

But like other issues surrounding the proposal, the per-station cost was the subject of much debate, with estimates ranging from no more than $50,000 to more than $150,000. The measure now goes to the full council on Wednesday, where it could get a vote or be deferred until a meeting sometime next year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, meanwhile, has remained neutral on the topic so far as he recently engineered the passage of an increase in the city minimum wage to $13 by mid-2019. Before Monday’s committee vote, Triche, of the retailers’ group, referred to the minimum wage issue.

“Here we go again,” Triche said. “The City Council is asking business owners to pay for very costly repairs in an economic time when most businesses are not doing all that well.”