Comment: The ongoing attack on ethanol

Source: By Douglas A. Durante, Clean Fuels Development Foundation, The • Posted: Friday, January 23, 2015

There is an old saying that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes.  However, we must add to that list the certainty that each Congress Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will continue her inexplicable crusade against corn ethanol by introducing legislation, amendments, riders, and other measures to tear down one of the great American success stories in an otherwise miserable legacy of energy policy. The current iteration is an amendment to the Keystone Pipeline legislation.

What is so troubling about the Senator’s vendetta is the complete and blatant misinformation used to support the attack. It is curious, and troubling, that in the face of absolute and unimpeachable facts, she continues.  In her latest effort to attack ethanol she has enlisted Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (R) who cites the same misinformation.  And make no mistake, this is an attack on ethanol.  The notion that corn ethanol could be eliminated from the RFS and this would magically open the door for non-corn feedstocks is preposterous and beyond naive.

Joining Feinstein in this effort is Toomey who, sadly, seems to have the same briefing book of misinformation.  He cites ethanol driving up gasoline prices when  it is and has been less expensive and makes up more than 10 percent of the nations fuel supply. He then states it increases food costs which has been so refuted we do not have the space here to even begin to argue that.  Suffice it to say corn is less expensive now than it was before the RFS so it defies any degree of spin to say the program has driven up prices of grain or food.  He then states it harms engines– again, a Pinocchio-like canard. Every automaker in the world honors the use of 10 percent ethanol blends and nearly 80 percent of the cars on the road today are approved for 15 percent blends. Small engines and even marine engines are approved for ethanol . Finally, he states it harms the environment when EPA has clearly stated ethanol is at minimum 20 percent less than gasoline in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Recent research we have conducted shows that is selling corn ethanol short and the true carbon reductions should put it in an advanced category.  It reduces particulates, toxics, sulfur, and a range of harmful emissions. So of the four reasons the Senator cites for his opposition, none are based in fact.  None.

As for Feinstein, to say the intent of the RFS was to support the development of cellulosic biofuels, that is certainly true. But the road to those fuels is paved by the corn ethanol industry and to advance those fuels at the expense of what has been an unqualified success is just plain wrong. If these Senators want to help cellulosic ethanol, there are a number of things they can do besides attacking corn ethanol. How about introducing legislation to provide meaningful, effective incentives to automakers to make all cars flex fuel, capable of operating on any blend of ethanol so we have somewhere to put the fuel?  Or legislation to clarify the intent of the Clean Air act with respect to reducing toxic aromatic compounds in gasoline, creating a market for clean ethanol as an octane additive.

It is discouraging to the entire biofuels industry to see good people operating with bad information. With 13 new senators and 58 new members of the House, don’t they deserve to get facts?  At what point do opponents of corn ethanol stop pretending they did not know that every argument raised by the oil companies — who are only trying to protect their market monopoly – – are without merit. There is no credible argument to support these anti-ethanol positions and every reason to stay the course.

Durante is executive director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition.