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Roll back ethanol fuel mandate


If the ethanol mandate isn’t rolled back soon, Americans will ultimately pay a lot more for a fuel that never should have been subsidized in the first place.

Gasoline already is a dollar higher than the average for the past decade because refiners must comply with a 2007 law designed to boost ethanol consumption.

The federal requirement for a substantial increase in ethanol use is very questionable. It was predicated on the expectation that production of cellulosic ethanol from switch grass, wood chips and other materials would kick in by 2010, but that has not happened due to economic and technological barriers. Consequently,ethanol made from corn is the only domestically produced biofuel available in large quantities. It now accounts for almost all of the 13.8 billion gallons of biofuel that refineries are required to blend with gasoline this year.

The upshot is that 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop is being consumed for ethanol production, a huge amount that is pushing up food prices and straining family budgets. Worse still, the biofuels mandate calls for a steady increase in ethanol production, rising to 36 billion gallons by 2022. As the use of corn ethanol grows, more people in this country and abroad will be hard-pressed to pay for food and gasoline, underscoring how misguided the push for biofuels has become.

America is paying a huge price for ethanol. E15, for example, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, has a fuel economy that’s 27 percent lower than gasoline, hence more of it has to be burned to create the same amount of energy.

In addition, E15 is a caustic fuel. The American Automobile Association says that E15 can cause accelerated engine wear and damage to fuel systems, resulting in costly repairs for unsuspecting automobile owners.

The misguided effort to treat ethanol as an alternative transportation fuel dates back to 2005, when Congress created the Renewal Fuel Standard, in the expectation that biofuels would help the United States achieve energy independence. Much to everyone’s surprise and relief, energy independence now seems to be within reach, but it’s not because we’re using more biofuel. Rather, it’s due to improved automobile fuel efficiency and, most importantly, an increase in domestic oil and gas production from the Marcellus Shale and other unconventional sources.

The problems with ethanol are more than economic. Growing corn to make ethanol requires huge amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides. Ethanol is causing the despoliation and depletion of groundwater systems in the Midwest and Great Plains. Yet corn ethanol has displaced only 3 to 4 percent of gasoline imported into the United States.

The answer is to repeal the Renewal Fuel Standard before it puts millions of vehicles at risk and causes more economic and environmental damage. Protecting consumers, rather than the biofuels industry, should be the goal.

The writer, a Sackets Harbor resident, is a retired petroleum exploration geologist.

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