Posted November 30, 2015
In finalizing ethanol volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the EPA is basically testing the limits of the ethanol “blend wall” and the potential impacts of breaching it. Unfortunately, the guinea pigs in the experiment are U.S. consumers – their wallets, their vehicles.
That’s what we draw from EPA’s requirements for levels of corn ethanol and other renewable fuels that must be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. EPA officially set requirements for 2014 (two years late), 2015 (a year late) and 2016. Requirements for 2016 are the most significant – 18.11 billion gallons, which is lower than what Congress originally required when it created the RFS, but higher than what EPA proposed in May (17.4 billion gallons).
Posted July 17, 2015
Lots of people are concerned that increasing the presence of E15 in the nation’s fuel supply could have adverse impacts on devices powered by gasoline.
Studies show E15 can damage engines and fuel systems in cars and trucks that weren’t designed to use it. (Click here for a matrix that shows most vehicles on the road today aren’t recommended for operating on E15 by manufacturers.) Motorcycles and outdoor power equipment could be negatively affected by using E15, too.
That’s a concern of marine engine manufacturers and boating enthusiasts as well.
Posted June 2, 2015
With EPA last week proposing ethanol-use requirements for 2014, 2015 and 2016 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the ethanol industry no doubt will keep lobbying to foist increasing amounts of higher-ethanol blend fuels like E15 and E85 on the motoring public. This, despite studies that have shown E15 can harm engines and fuel systems in vehicles that weren’t designed to use it – potentially voiding manufacturers’ warranties – and historically small consumer demand for E85.
A subset of the argument for increased use of higher-ethanol blend fuels is the dismissing of concern that E15 also could damage existing service station infrastructure, including storage tanks, fuel lines and dispensers. Though service station owners and operators indicate otherwise, ethanol supporters say that a new National Renewable Energy Laborary (NREL) report – commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a big ethanol advocate – found that E15 is compatible with existing equipment. It’s simply not true, and the report has some challenges. Let’s look at a few.
Posted May 29, 2015
With EPA already embarrassingly late in setting requirements for ethanol in the fuel supply for 2014 (due 18 months ago) and 2015 (due six months ago), the agency finally has proposals for those years and 2016 that would continue to drive ethanol use – though not at levels dictated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Top EPA official Janet McCabe called the proposals “ambitious, but responsible.” We’ll agree on the ambitious part – in that it takes a whole lot of something to thread the needle between marketplace realities and the flawed RFS – difficult for the nimblest of bureaucracies, much less a regulatory colossus like EPA.
Unfortunately, EPA comes up short, particularly for 2016. An RFS program that long ago went awry remains lost in the tall weeds of process over substance.
Posted January 16, 2015
Pacific Standard magazine (PS) has an interesting longread on honeybees in its January issue. While this is not our area of expertise and we can’t judge the veracity of the entire article, there was one part that we had, unfortunately, seen before:
Over a million acres of grassland were converted to crops in five Midwestern states from 2006 to 2011, according to a study by South Dakota State University. … Across the region more than 99 percent of what was originally prairie has been converted, mostly to corn and soy for animal feed, ethanol, and sweetener … Now the entire Midwest, several beekeepers told me, has become a “corn desert.” This has wrought devastation on most anything that used to live in the fields. Monarch butterflies no longer have milkweed for laying eggs. Birds no longer have insects to eat or prairie to shelter in. Native bees are disappearing.
The years 2006 to 2011 are not a coincidence, as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) explains:
After the federal Renewable Fuel Standard was signed into law in 2007, many corn growers decided to plant corn year after year to profit from higher prices, rather than switching between corn and soybeans, for example. This transition has greatly harmed air and water quality.
And apparently bees. But not to worry, the federal government is on the case.
Posted December 16, 2014
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies on the city council deserve credit for putting a stop – for now at least – to an ill-conceived proposal that would mandate the sale of higher ethanol blend E15 fuel at city service stations.
We say ill-conceived because, as argued here and here earlier this year, the E15 requirement could be full of risk for consumers and small business owners – while mainly benefiting ethanol producers. Recently, AAA urged Chicago lawmakers to vote against the ordinance.
Posted November 3, 2014
Sometimes the public policy debate occurs at an academic level, and it’s easy to overlook the impact on real Americans. A good example is the campaign to push higher ethanol-blend fuels into the marketplace, which could negatively affect millions of consumers and hinder the broader economy. True enough, but we should also look at the real-world impacts of forcing increasing levels of ethanol into the fuel supply, impacts on individual Americans like Russell Garcia in Chicago.
Garcia owns five independent service stations in Chicago. He recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune to point out the consequences of a city council proposal to require Chicago gas stations to carry E15 gasoline – fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol, 50 percent more ethanol than the E10 gasoline that’s prevalent across the country.
Garcia wrote that E15 won’t deliver benefits promised by proponents, such as cost savings and environmental improvements. Instead, he wrote, it would impact consumers and small business owners like himself and ultimately be worse for the environment.
Posted September 11, 2014
Mixing politics and energy makes for bad energy policy. Exhibit A: the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
We’ve posted a couple of times (here and here) on EPA’s failure to be on time with its annual requirements for ethanol use, which is critical for refiners to comply with the law. If you missed it, the 2014 requirements were due Nov. 30, 2013, nine months ago. That’s a broken program. Now politics may enter in where it shouldn’t.
Posted August 20, 2014
Other voices continue to weigh in on the higher-ethanol blend fuels, E15 and E85. Three associations representing independent petroleum marketing companies and fuel retail outlets have written the White House, expressing concern for the fuels’ compatibility with the nation’s vehicular fleet and consumer acceptance.
In separate letters to John Podesta, White House counselor for energy and climate policy – the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA) in one and the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA) and the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in another – the associations caution that pushing more and more E15 and E85 into the fuel supply could cause problems for retailers and consumers.
Posted July 29, 2014
We posted a couple of times on a Chicago proposal to require city service stations to carry E15 (here and here). The good news is that this bad-news idea looks like it’s stuck in first gear. Local reports say a City Council committee took no action Monday after a marathon hearing ran out of gas (their pun, not mine).
The discussion included an E15 claim that’s worth another dose of debunking – that NASCAR’s use of E15 proves its suitability for your car or truck. Michael Lynch, NASCAR’s VP for green innovation, spoke at the hearing:
“We’ve been running now for six million miles, Sunoco Green E15 – which is exactly the kind of street fuel that is being proposed here – with great performance, and no issues whatsoever.”
Sigh. The what’s-good-for-NASCAR-is-good-for-the-family-car line, seemingly impermeable to fact, is a special favorite of the ethanol crowd (that’s Sen. Al Franken joy-riding the ethanol wagon, here). Previous posts debunking the NASCAR comparison here, here and here, but with racing’s 6 million-mile milestone approaching, we’ll take another shot.