- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Pushing the button for regular 87-grade octane, Steve Smith said he thought he was filling his sport utility vehicle with ethanol-free gasoline.

“I don’t buy super unleaded, knowing that it’s ethanol,” Mr. Smith said, citing concerns about how ethanol could affect his vehicle.

But Mr. Smith was buying ethanol-blended gasoline, just as he had done several times before. Although many pumps don’t announce it, almost all the gasoline sold in Missouri has contained a blend with 10 percent ethanol for at least the past several months.

A law that took effect yesterday makes Missouri the third state — behind Minnesota and Hawaii — to implement a wide-ranging ethanol mandate. Because the corn-based fuel is cheaper than gasoline, most of Missouri’s gas stations quietly made the switch months in advance.

Like Mr. Smith, “most consumers in the state of Missouri have been using E-10 for months and probably don’t know it,” said Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. “That’s why we anticipate the January 1 transition to be a nonevent.”

Ethanol-blended gasoline — E-10 refers to the blend that is 10 percent ethanol — has become increasingly common nationwide.

Part of the reason rests with a federal standard for alternative-fuel production. More than half the states have joined the federal government in offering incentives to ethanol producers or retailers. Because it burns cleaner than petroleum, ethanol-blended gasoline is the norm in numerous cities facing Environmental Protection Agency mandates to improve their air quality.

Fourteen states have no requirement that gasoline pumps carry ethanol labels, according to the American Coalition for Ethanol. Missouri repealed its labeling requirement in 2002 — four years before passing the law that mandated ethanol in gasoline by this year.

A 10 percent ethanol blend should have little effect on gas mileage, said Chad Tharpe, a Break Time station manager.

The federal renewable fuels standard called for oil companies to buy 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel last year. Oil companies are expected to use about 7 billion gallons, but ethanol plants have produced about 7.5 billion gallons, said Gary Marshall, chief executive officer of the Missouri Corn Growers Association.

That oversupply, combined with government tax incentives for ethanol, has caused ethanol-blended gasoline to be 5 to 10 cents cheaper per gallon at the retail level than traditional gasoline.

That motivated many Missouri gas stations to make the ethanol switch ahead of the mandate. The new law includes an exception automatically suspending the ethanol mandate any time the price of ethanol exceeds that of traditional gasoline.

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