Lawmakers vote to ban ethanol in Maine

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House on Wednesday took a decisive stance against blending ethanol into gasoline, giving initial approval to a bill that would ban the corn-based additive from motor fuel if two other New England states pass similar laws.

In addition, the House unanimously endorsed a resolution urging the federal government not to require gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, a blend known as E15. The Senate unanimously endorsed that resolution Tuesday. Most gasoline available today is a blend with 10 percent ethanol.

The House voted 109-32 in favor of LD 115, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, that would ban the sale of ethanol-containing gasoline in the state. The prohibition would only take effect if two other New England states passed similar laws.

“It’s basically a bill to eliminate food in our fuel,” said Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington. “Food in our fuel just doesn’t make any sense. How arrogant of us, the great, wealthy United States of America, to use somebody else’s resources first and put our food in our fuel when other people in the world are starving.”

Proponents of the ban said on the House floor that ethanol in gasoline hasn’t helped the United States cut down on carbon pollution and the additive is damaging to small engines and boat motors. Plus, the use of corn in gasoline has forced corn prices to spike, driving up food and gasoline prices, said Timberlake.

“These costs have to be passed on to the consumer,” he said. “The consumer responds by adjusting their budget and decreasing the amount of farm-raised produce they can purchase. The end effect is the local farmer can’t stay in business.”

Those who voted against the bill said Maine should be careful in passing legislation that bucks federal regulations that require an annually increasing amount of the nation’s fuels come from renewable sources.

“The federal government requires significant use of renewable fuel, and currently ethanol is the only viable option,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, who is chairman of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. “There’s no cost-effective source of nonethanol fuel currently available.”

Timberlake’s bill and the Legislature’s resolution against requiring a 15 percent ethanol blend come as state officials and ethanol opponents fear the federal government will start to require the use of more ethanol-heavy gasoline.

The 10 percent ethanol blend became common after the 2007 federal Renewable Fuel Standard started requiring fuel producers to blend an annually increasing amount of renewable fuels — mostly ethanol — into gasoline. In 2008, the federal law required 9 billion gallons of renewable fuel be blended into gasoline. That number will rise to 36 billion gallons by 2022, according to the EPA.

The House on Wednesday also passed another measure sponsored by Timberlake, LD 105, that would allow the sale of gasoline with 5 percent ethanol.

Timberlake said the legislation would allow Maine policymakers to send a message they oppose ethanol while they wait for two New England neighbors to act on the ethanol ban. Welsh said the bill is redundant, since Maine law doesn’t prohibit the sale of gasoline with 5 percent ethanol.

The House and Senate late last month passed another measure, LD 453, that would ban gasoline in Maine that has more than 10 percent ethanol, a move designed to resist the transition to E15 gasoline. That move also would only take effect if two other New England states sign on.

According to AAA, about 95 percent of car owners could face the possibility of voided warranties on their vehicles if they fuel up with E15. A recent survey by the association found that five auto manufacturers explicitly stated their warranties wouldn’t cover E15-related damage claims. Eight other automakers said E15 doesn’t comply with their vehicles’ fuel requirements, and that use of the fuel blend could result in a voided warranty.

Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the ethanol industry, says 62 percent of light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads today, representing 80 percent of fuel purchases, can use E15.

In January, the E15 blend was only available at 10 gas stations in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.