The Obama administration wants to boost the amount of corn shoved into the gas tank of newer cars by 50 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made this happen on Wednesday by giving partial approval to E15, an automotive fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol. This dirty deal will enrich the major ethanol producers represented by Growth Energy while impoverishing taxpayers and anyone else who cares about clean air.
Technically, the agency only approved a waiver allowing the sale of E15 for vehicles from model year 2007 and later, but don’t be fooled by this incremental approach. The EPA is expected by November to adjust down the allowance to cars built after 2000. The current “allowance” for a 10-percent-ethanol fuel blend, or E10, is no different from a mandate. Ninety percent of gasoline sold in the United States is E10, and in most areas of the country, real gasoline is simply not available. It’s not clear how multiple fuel pumps for older and newer cars would work in practice under this rule, but ethanol policy has never made sense.
Congress and the George W. Bush administration enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which, in addition to banning incandescent light bulbs, mandates the sale of 36 billion gallons of ethanol in 2022. That established a profitable market for producers by government fiat. The scheme also will drive up grain and corn prices, benefiting farm states at the expense of consumers.
Without government subsidies, controls and mandates, there would have been little if any demand for ethanol. Besides a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit, there is a 54-cent tariff on ethanol imports and a 10-cent credit for small ethanol producers that the industry is lobbying to extend beyond the end of next year. Because ethanol produces less energy than gasoline, it makes no sense to use it on the road. A car that gets 30 miles per gallon on gas would get just 20 miles per gallon on ethanol.
Corn-based fuel is not only an economic disaster, it’s an ecological nightmare as well. By the EPA’s own numbers, an across-the-board switch to E15 would “significantly impair the emissions control technology” if used in 74 million cars in America’s fleet. That’s because E15 burns 6 percent leaner than gasoline - often exceeding manufacturer design specifications - leading to higher exhaust temperatures, misfires and catalytic-converter damage. In addition to this problem, burning ethanol produces heightened levels of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and deadly carcinogens such as formaldehyde. The ultimate hypocrisy in the EPA’s position is that the agency lists nitrogen oxides among the emissions responsible for purported climate change. “It accumulates in the atmosphere with other greenhouse gases causing a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature,” an EPA document explains.
The Obama administration doesn’t care if its policies, by its own standards, will poison the air, kill polar bears and melt the ice caps. Ethanol always has been a fundamentally political game. This policy is about re-election. Perhaps next year, the new Congress will have what it takes to stand up to Big Corn and repeal the subsidies, tariffs and mandates propping up this corporate welfare scheme.