Comment: Bill could stave off higher levels of ethanol at the pump

Source: By David Sikes, Caller Times • Posted: Friday, June 3, 2016

If you don’t have an opinion on ethanol-blended gasoline then you’re in a minority. And you probably don’t own a boat.

If you run an outboard motor, chain saw, lawn mower, jet ski or ATV, you probably already are aware of the corrosive properties of E10, which nearly every fuel pump in the state dispenses. E10 is shorthand for a fuel blend with 10 percent alcohol and 90 percent gasoline.

Well, brace yourself for E15.

Recently the National Marine Manufacturers Association distributed 100,000 warning labels to boat manufacturers across the country to alert boaters of the potential dangers of using fuel with a higher ethanol content. This came after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in May proposed higher ethanol quotas for 2017 under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard adopted in 2007.

Ethanol also lowers fuel economy. Older engines are more susceptible to corrosion as are older components of fuel tanks, hoses, valves and such. Ethanol, even at 10 percent, destroys or dissolves old fiberglass gas tanks. Newer tanks are not a problem. And because alcohol is a solvent, it melts or corrodes plastic, rubber and sometimes aluminum.

While groups such as the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and American Petroleum Institute reacted by suggesting Congress repeal or substantially reform the federally mandated schedule to increase levels of renewable fuel in our gasoline, a Texas congressman spearheaded a bipartisan bill to limit the injurious and inefficient additive.

Hats off to U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican from Bryan, who teamed up with two Democrats and another Republican to introduce House Bill 5180, or the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act.

“H.R. 5180 would essentially require the EPA to cap the (Renewable Fuel Standard) mandate at 9.7 percent of gasoline demand and stay below the E10 blend wall as long as the mandate continues (through and beyond 2022),” said Andre Castro, a spokesman for Flores.

If the EPA forces E15 into the marketplace, and if history is any indication of the consequences, we could expect E10’s availability to diminish in much the same way pure gasoline was eliminated from pumps over the past decade. The last time I checked, ethanol-free fuel in the Coastal Bend was available exclusively at two outlets: Planter’s Grain Co-Op on Odom’s main drag and Ingleside’s Bayside Market near the public boat ramp.

The somewhat misguided notion behind ethanol-blended fuel, of course, is that it reduces hydrocarbon emissions that pollute the air, while reducing our dependence on overseas oil. But at the same time it reduces fuel economy, some say by as much as 3.3 percent, while others say by as much as 7 percent. And producing it may actually require the burning of more fossil fuel than the alternative requires.

Most ethanol in the United States is made from corn, which produces its own set of problems. A more efficient and conservation-friendly ethanol would come from switchgrass or other renewable plants that require less habitat destruction and does not promote higher feed and food costs. But ethanol from switchgrass still damages small engines and outboards.

On all of these points, the website clearly explains some of the reasons the debate over ethanol is so contentious. In a nutshell, many of the talking points are contradictory, in part, because of institutionalized deception.

FactCheck attempts to sort through the misinformation, but in the end, we art still left with a choice of who to believe. The scientific community, as usual, cannot agree on whether the claims on either side are true.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a variety of factors determine whether ethanol is better than gasoline for the environment. These factors include the many environmental impacts associated with production, delivery and the use of ethanol. Together, these are referred as ethanol’s lifecycle emissions.

“The best ethanol can produce as much as 90 percent fewer lifecycle emissions compared to gasoline,” according to a Union article titled “The Truth about Ethanol.” “But the worst ethanol can produce significantly more lifecycle emissions than gasoline.”

The FactCheck article points to two reputable studies that concluded the use of corn ethanol nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years. The author of one of the studies said corn-based ethanol represents “an inefficient and expensive greenhouse gas mitigation policy.”

According to FactCheck, the ethanol lobby suggests that only “Big Oil” opposes the federal fuel mandates. That’s simply not true.

The opposition camp lists restaurant owners worried about food prices, boat manufacturers and owners, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and even Ducks Unlimited.

That’s right, ethanol is bad for waterfowl and other water birds. Production that displaces other less-profitable crops can push farmers to cultivate vast wetlands and wildlife habitats or simply expand cornfields into those habitats. And much of this habitat is in the rich duck-nesting landscape referred to as the Prairie Pothole Region in the northern United States.

In 2007 there were 116 ethanol plants in the United States. Today there are 216, according to Ethanol Producer Magazine.

Even former ethanol backer Al Gore denounced corn-based ethanol, calling the federal program a mistake in 2010.


What: Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to raise ethanol quotas under the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.

Deadline for public comment: July 11.


Search: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0004.

David Sikes’ Outdoors columns appear Thursday and Sunday. Contact Sikes at 361-886-3616 or Twitter: @DavidOutdoors.