Mike Colvin - Call a halt to ethanol
The ethanol industry has requested to increase the mix of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent, and the Environmental Protection Agency has approved that request. EPA approval came in spite of strong opposition from groups representing millions of taxpayers: AAA, auto manufacturers, several consumer groups and even four or five state governments.
The objections from that varied group differed little, and they all boiled down to three facts:
1. The financial cost to American citizens — billions of dollars a year — far outweighs any benefit from the increase.
2. Ninety-five percent of the 254 million vehicles on the road are not designed to run on 15 percent ethanol; only flex-fuel vehicles comply. So the stronger mix of alcohol in gasoline eventually will damage the engines in those vehicles.
3. There will be no net environmental gains from this increased blend because the EPA excluded vehicles causing the most vehicle greenhouse gases in the United States. These are the approximately 100 million pre-2001 vehicles that have already driven 150,000 to 300,000 miles.
The EPA’s reasoning is that they are simply following legal guidelines laid out in two “Green Laws” approved by Congress: the Renewable Fuel Standard Program in 2006 and the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007. Apparently, these laws mandated large increases in the production of “renewable fuels” through 2050.
Wow. I can say I totally agree with the intent of these laws. And I hope by that time, scientists and researchers will have made two or three scientific breakthroughs necessary to make ethanol affordable.
But the reality of 2013 is that the ethanol industry has had 13 years — spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars a year — to develop “affordable” ethanol from waste biomass such as algae, switchgrass and sawdust. But 13 years later, the industry still makes 90 percent of its ethanol from corn.
That production required 40 percent of America’s total corn crop in 2012. It’s no coincidence that the price tripled, from $2 to $6 per bushel since 2005, when the mix of ethanol was increased from 5 to 10 percent after Congress passed the new laws. So consumers have been forced to pay higher prices for both fuel and food (dairy products and poultry).
It just doesn’t make sense to increase the mix of ethanol any further until the industry can figure out how to produce ethanol from biomass that is less expensive than corn.
The average age of vehicles on the road has risen from 8 years to 11.8 years. Even with 14 million efficient vehicles being sold each year, all these 8- to 15-year-old vehicles are increasing, not decreasing, America’s greenhouse gases on a per-vehicle basis.
Even with regular maintenance, most older vehicles probably have 30 percent less fuel economy and emit 30 percent more emissions than when new. In worst cases, it’s 100 percent more emissions.
People often drive with the “check engine” light on for a year or more. Maybe they can’t afford to trade up to newer models, so they keep dumping money into unsafe vehicles with poor fuel economy and high emissions. The vehicles manufactured in 1998 through 2005 make up 35 percent of America’s fuel consumption problem and 50 to 60 percent of our vehicle emission problem.
Ethanol sounded like a great solution in 2001, but I believe the ethanol industry sold Congress on some technological theories they still haven’t delivered on. And since ethanol does not attack the core problem of vehicle emissions, it has not decreased total vehicle emissions (see chart).
It makes no sense to keep dumping taxpayers’ hard-earned money into stronger ethanol blends.
Better solutions to vehicle emissions have become available in the past 13 years; Congress should shift its environmental strategy to these proven technologies.
Guest writer Mike Colvin grew up in McMinnville. He graduated from McMinnville High School in 1967 and earned a business degree from Oregon State University in 1971. He went to work for his father at Colvin Motors two weeks later. He sold cars and served as new and used car manager before buying the business in 1990. He and his wife, Sandi, have two children. He enjoys fishing, hunting and following sports.