Columbia, SC — The Obama administration could save consumers billions of dollars and strengthen our nation’s energy security by advocating a roll back of the government mandate for ethanol production and blending in gasoline.
In 2005, Congress approved a renewable fuel standard that contemplated the advanced biofuel industry would gain a foothold in the ethanol market by 2010. Instead, corn ethanol accounts for virtually all biofuel, while the production of cellulosic ethanol from switch grass, wood chips and other materials still hasn’t gotten off the ground. Yet the mandate requires escalating production of ethanol, from 13 billion gallons this year to 36 billion gallons in 2022.
Consumers pay a heavy price for ethanol. E15, a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline, has a fuel economy that’s 27 percent lower than gasoline, so you have to burn more of it to create the same amount of energy. That means it costs about 70 cents a gallon more than gasoline on an energy-equivalent basis, according to the Department of Energy.
What’s more, E15 is caustic. The American Automobile Association has warned that E15 can cause accelerated engine wear and failure, resulting in costly repairs for unsuspecting consumers.
The government provides significant fuel-economy credits to automakers who build vehicles that can run on E15. But these credits have indirectly allowed more large SUVs that get relatively poor gas mileage to be sold. As a result, the credits have increased annual U.S. gasoline consumption, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That’s not what ethanol was supposed to do.
The biofuels industry insists that ethanol is good for the environment, reducing air emissions. Unfortunately, production requires enormous amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, which pollute groundwater. Also, corn is one of the most water-intensive crops, and irrigating corn fields has contributed to a dramatic decline in groundwater levels in some Midwestern states, along with the rising cost of beef as corn is diverted to ethanol production.
This doesn’t have to happen. With the huge increase in America’s oil production due to the shale-oil revolution, we have less need for ethanol as a means to ensure renewable energy for security of supply. Rolling back the ethanol mandate would save consumers money, protect valuable groundwater resources and strengthen U.S. energy security.
Jeffrey C. Nelson