Summer always means more pain at the gasoline pump. When the weather warms families hit the road on vacations and Economics 101 does the rest. The price of a gallon of gasoline goes up. Trouble overseas plays a role, but a role not nearly as big as the conflict created by Washington when Congress and the bureaucrats demanded that our cars and trucks eat their vegetables.
The average cost of a gallon of regular climbed to $3.64 on Tuesday, up 15 cents over the past week and 24 cents a gallon higher than a year ago. Industry analysts expect the price to continue to rise. Drivers in high-tax and regulation states such as California are paying more than $4 a gallon. There are fears that the revolution in Egypt, which raises concerns about shipments through the Suez Canal, could send crude oil beyond $106 a barrel. Throw a rock in Cairo and it will hit an American motorist in the wallet.
If all that were not enough, the Environmental Protection Agency is strengthening the "biofuels" mandate that requires refiners to adulterate gasoline with corn to reduce carbon dioxide lest it turn February into August. The policy has voter appeal in the corn-growing states in the Midwest, and created an industry that exists only because of the federal mandate.
In June last year the EPA approved E15 fuel, a blend that contains 15 percent ethanol, for cars and trucks built after 2001. The automobile and petroleum industries challenged the new mandate, arguing that E15 could corrode engine parts, requiring expensive repairs. Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, BMW and Volkswagen declared that using the stronger ethanol mix will void factory warranties. An American Petroleum Institute legal challenge failed last month when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case because the organization lacked standing to sue.
Gasoline at 95 of every 100 American filling stations, called E10, is a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol from corn. Because ethanol produces less energy than petroleum, the E10 cuts mileage by 3.3 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. E15 would cut mileage further.
Though E15 is currently sold only at a handful of gasoline stations in the Midwest, the EPA will likely push for expansion. EPA zealots are not easily moved by criticism from the real world; when it became clear last summer that the biofuels mandates were cutting into corn supplies thinned by drought, the EPA refused to ease the pressure for the new blend. On Friday, the agency issued "findings" about making ethanol from barley, and posted new rules for production from giant reed, a plant indigenous to Southern Asia, and napier grass, native to Uganda. Both are considered invasive species.
The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Friday took a step toward restoring affordability to energy policy, approving legislation to require the EPA to report to Congress any new rules that would cost more than $1 billion. That would help, but Congress should repeal the biofuel mandate. Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, in the old music hall favorite, sang of feeding his horse "on corn and beans." But the American automobile, even when built abroad, was not meant to be a vegetarian.
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