Ethanol claim a dangerous combination of misinformation, power

Source: By Doug Berven, Portland Press Herald • Posted: Friday, July 8, 2016

According to informal advisers to Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, the use of ethanol in our fuel mix can be blamed for just about anything – opiate abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, anger, depression, allergies and crime. Of course, there are no credible facts to support any of these ideas. Even the oil industry, which actively lobbies against competition from renewable fuels, doesn’t make such far-fetched proclamations.

That’s because ethanol has been a major part of our energy mix since 1908, when Henry Ford designed his Model T to operate on the homegrown fuel. Today, ethanol makes up 10 percent of the U.S. fuel supply. It burns cleaner and cooler than oil and increases octane, which is good for our environment and our car engines. That’s why NASCAR and IndyCar mechanics have trusted the fuel for years.

It’s important to remember that ethanol is just another name for the specific kind of alcohol that gives adult beverages their kick. Ethanol may give you a hangover if you drink it, but to suggest that biofuels are responsible for the psychological struggles of our returning veterans is an outrageous abuse of the truth.

Most importantly, ethanol replaces petroleum-based toxins such as benzene, toluene and xylene. In fact, many states require an ethanol blend under federal law to help them meet standards set by the Clean Air Act, because they know it significantly reduces tailpipe emissions.

Without ethanol in the fuel supply, we are left with more toxic alternatives, which have been proven to cause cancer and smog. For example, ethanol provided the clean alternative to MTBE, which Maine banned in 2004 because it’s been proven to contaminate groundwater.

We may not think of it often, but we are benefiting from ethanol every day – and not just by breathing cleaner air. Having a share of our transportation sector powered by ethanol reduces America’s reliance on foreign oil and slashes the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. On average, corn ethanol reduces carbon emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline, and advanced biofuels can reduce emissions by 100 percent or more over gasoline. Meanwhile, biofuels displaced more oil in 2015 than the United States imported from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined.

Under normal circumstances, one might imagine that an executive order governing the state’s energy mix would reflect a serious review of the facts. Unfortunately, reports indicate that Gov. LePage’s recent efforts to discourage the use of ethanol were driven by a laundry list of bizarre claims by Beth O’Connor, a member of the Maine House of Representatives, and a retired mechanic from South Berwick. As a result, Maine could find itself with higher fuel costs, polluted air, greater dependency on foreign oil and fewer choices at the pump.

Maine drivers have been able to benefit from more affordable options at the gasoline pump, saving anywhere from 50 cents to $1.50 a gallon during periods of high oil prices. Now is not the time to roll back the clock by adding chemicals that produce cancer-causing emissions back into gasoline, once again becoming more dependent on foreign oil, and paying higher gas prices. The governor and his allies need to take a look at the facts, talk to some real experts and stop implementing policies based on half-understood rumors.

Doug Berven is vice president of corporate affairs at Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based POET, the largest ethanol producer in the United States.