Together with eight other lawmakers, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., recently introduced a bill to eliminate the mandate for corn-based ethanol. This proposal comes just weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to reduce the ethanol fuel requirement.
Both moves are reckless and unjustifiable. The nation must break its fossil-fuel addiction.
Corn-based ethanol helps cut domestic greenhouse gas emissions, lowers gasoline prices and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs. Plans to limit its use will stall the drive for clean energy, while wreaking havoc on the nation’s agricultural markets.
Our leaders can’t cede ground to the fossil fuels industry. Policymakers must reconsider these misguided plans, and instead redouble their efforts to promote renewable energy, especially domestic biofuels.
Since the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, fuel manufacturers have been required to gradually increase the amount of corn-based ethanol in most U.S. gasoline. The rule — known as the renewable-fuel standard — was intended to wean the country away from environmentally hazardous fossil fuels.
Ethanol has been an invaluable tool for mitigating the dangers of fossil fuel use. The corn-based fuel offers one of the few workable strategies for meeting the nation’s environmental goals. For example, harmful emissions from ethanol are 48 to 59 percent lower than gasoline.
And unlike many other renewable energy sources, ethanol is economically sound, selling up to a dollar less per gallon than gasoline. The widespread adoption of ethanol has also strengthened our agriculture industry, supporting 300,000 jobs and contributing $43.4 billion to the national economy.
Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel sector has carried out a relentless campaign to smear ethanol as expensive, inefficient and damaging to automobile engines. Further, supporters of the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act contend that using ethanol as fuel raises animal feed and food prices to unmanageable levels.
When you look at the overall low cost of corn as a food ingredient, and the fact that we’re meeting all needs for corn with a surplus of more than 1.7 billion bushels this year, this argument falls apart. Further, food prices are much more affected by increases in oil and other energy prices.
Another widespread myth is that gasoline mixtures with more than 10 percent ethanol aren’t suitable for many of today’s cars. In fact, more than half of the cars on the road today are approved by the EPA for E15 fuel (a 15 percent blend of ethanol), and nearly two-thirds of the nation’s cars produced next year will be explicitly approved by their manufacturer for E15 and/or E85.
The EPA has even pointed to an “E10 blend wall” as a reason for relaxing the renewable-fuel standard in 2014. Thanks to the recent dropoff in demand for gasoline due to more efficient cars and fewer miles traveled overall, the agency notes, “[n]early all gasoline sold in the U.S. is now ‘E10.’” According to the EPA’s argument, without a reduction in the renewable-fuel standard, refiners will be forced to produce gasoline containing more ethanol than most cars can handle.
But the agency’s own research shows that blends as high as E15 are appropriate for all cars made after 2001. What’s more, automakers continue to turn out flex-fuel vehicles that can run on blends ranging up to E85. In the United States alone, there are more than 15 million flex-fuel vehicles on the road today.
The EPA’s policy change is entirely ill-advised. The reform will not only set back an economically viable green initiative, it will leave American farmers in the lurch.
A record-high corn crop this season has already driven prices below the break-even point of about $4.25 a bushel. Proposals to reduce or eliminate ethanol use will lower prices even further, threatening family farms and destroying countless jobs in rural communities.
What’s more, corn farmers are already planning for next year’s crop. Without the assurance that the Obama administration will enforce the renewable-fuel standard as promised, determining how much to plant will be more of a gamble than usual.
The goal of the renewable-fuel standard was to accelerate the adoption of renewable fuels across America, and relaxing ethanol standards in 2014 will betray this cause, introduce unnecessary turmoil into our agricultural sector, and hand an unearned victory to the fossil fuels industry. Agency officials and congressional leaders should waste no time in rejecting these proposals.
Martin Barbre is an Illinois farmer and president of the National Corn Growers Association.