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 October 20, 2014
The Obama administration is trying to balance its support for renewable fuels with awareness of infrastructure constraints at gas stations as it finalizes targets for 2014 biofuel use, agency officials said on Tuesday. But with only 11 weeks left in the year, the administration also needs to weigh oil refiners' ability to comply with the long-delayed requirements, one official told the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit.
The article goes on to quote Janet McCabe, who leads EPA’s division overseeing the biofuels program:
(McCabe) acknowledged that delays in setting the targets, formally called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), should be taken into account. "We need to be mindful of where we are in the year," McCabe said …
Reuters reports that EPA had proposed lowering ethanol mandates for 2014 because the U.S. was on a collision course with the 10 percent blend wall – the point where RFS mandates will require ethanol to be blended into gasoline at levels higher than the 10 percent fuel (E10) for which most of today’s vehicles were designed.
Posted October 8, 2014
Others are picking up on how late EPA is in setting this year’s ethanol use requirements – as well as how political calculations appear to be affecting the administration’s management of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Politico (subscription required) has this:
The Obama administration is nearly a year late in setting its 2014 biofuels mandate, but both ethanol supporters and critics say with politics at play, the White House may delay its decision until after the midterm elections.
Several sources following the issue closely say that the White House hoped that boosting the overall volumes would be enough to act as a boon to (Democrat Bruce Braley in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race). But renewable fuels advocates in the state aren’t happy with that compromise, so anything short of a clear victory for ethanol makers could hurt Braley’s campaign. … “If they increase the number, but it’s still tied to the (ethanol) blend wall, in our view, they will have killed the program, and that will be seen as a huge loss for Braley, and they’ll wait until after the election,” said one person in the biofuels industry. “If it’s good for Braley, it’ll be before the election. If it’s bad for Braley, it’ll be a punt. And people will see the punt.”
Indeed they will. They can’t help but see energy policy being contorted to serve political ends. It’s no way to conduct energy policy, and it’s no way to treat Americans who ultimately could be impacted by decisions (or the lack thereof) under the RFS.
Posted October 2, 2014
The absurdity surrounding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) continues:
Those Late 2014 Ethanol Requirements – EPA now is 10 months late with setting this year’s requirements for ethanol use. Under the RFS, the agency is required to tell obligated parties, like refiners, how much ethanol they’re required to use in a calendar year by November of the previous year. Thus, requirements for 2014 ethanol use were due in November, 2013.
As it is we’re getting closer to the point where the absurd becomes the ridiculous, with the growing possibility EPA could end up setting 2014’s requirements in 2015. It would be like something from one of the late, great Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” sketches: “Oh Unfortunate Ones, here’s how much ethanol you should have used …”
Posted September 12, 2014
One of the oft-repeated claims of ethanol producers is that higher-ethanol blend fuels like E15 are better for air quality than the E10 gasoline that’s the staple of the U.S. fuel supply. Short response: No. And while we’ve addressed the ethanol/air quality claim recently here and here, spurious assertions often have more lives than Lulu, my daughter’s cat. So let’s look at the facts and credible research again.
We’ll underscore “facts and credible research,” because an advocacy group is promoting a study on ethanol, air quality and potential cancer risks that isn’t an original study at all. Rather, it’s an overly simplistic exercise in data aggregation that ignores the confounding effects of different test procedures, laboratories and fuel properties. In other words, it’s a crummy analysis that would send real scientists running in the other way.
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 September 9, 2014
If you’re keeping track at home – and we sure are – EPA is now nine months late in issuing ethanol-use requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2014. That’s no typo. EPA is nine months late with its ethanol rule for this year.
By law EPA was required to set 2014 ethanol-use levels last November, 2013. You know, so that folks obligated under the RFS to blend ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply could actually plan to comply with the law
Posted August 27, 2014
There was an interesting article last year from Ian Boyd, a chief scientific adviser in the government of the United Kingdom. In it Boyd looks at the role that science plays in public policy, including this clarification and warning:
Strictly speaking, the role of science should be to provide information to those having to make decisions, including the public, and to ensure that the uncertainties around that information are made clear. When scientists start to stray into providing views about whether decisions based upon the evidence are right or wrong they risk being politicised.
This comes to mind with a recent Huffington Post article lauding a proposal that would require Chicago service stations to offer E15 fuel, authored by Michael Wang and Jennifer Dunn, scientists with the Argonne National Laboratory.
Wang and Dunn write that mandating E15 – containing 50 percent more ethanol than the E10 gasoline that’s the staple of the U.S. fuel supply – is a “step in the right direction,” because of its environmental benefits. Actually, the Chicago ethanol mandate would be a giant leap backward for consumers, small business owners and, yes, the environment.
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 August 15, 2014
Helmets off – as in motorcycle helmets – to the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) for conducting an E10 fuel giveaway at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally earlier this month in South Dakota.
We know Big Ethanol prefers ethanol in stronger doses than E10 (up to 10 percent content), but RFA must realize its efforts to get more of the higher ethanol-blend E15 into the nation’s fuel supply has risks with certain audiences.
Take motorcycle enthusiasts. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has been direct in its concerns about E15 in the fuel marketplace:
Inadvertent misfueling with E15 (15 percent ethanol by volume) fuel is a significant concern to AMA members. E15 use can void manufacturers’ warranties, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged that E15 can damage engines. Although the EPA has approved its use in 2001-and-newer light-duty vehicles – which include cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles – the EPA has not approved its use in the estimated 22 million motorcycles and ATVs currently in operation. … Preventing these inadvertent misfuelings has been one of the AMA’s main concerns, because a vast majority of motorcycles and ATVs on the road and trail in the United States today are not designed to run on ethanol blends higher than 10 percent. And many older machines favored by vintage motorcycle enthusiasts have problems with any ethanol in the fuel.