- - Wednesday, May 2, 2012

As if E10 ethanol mandates aren’t folly enough, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will now permit ethanol manufacturers to register as E15 gasoline suppliers.

They will next work to get E15 (15 percent ethanol) registered as a fuel in individual states and persuade oil companies to offer it at service stations - assisted by Team Obama promotional efforts and taxpayer-financed grants, loans and loan guarantees to help station owners install 10,000 blender pumps over the next five years.

Regular gasoline has already skyrocketed from $1.85 a gallon when President Obama took office to around $4 today. Many motorists will likely seek to reduce their pump pain slightly by filling their cars, trucks and maybe even boats, lawn mowers and other equipment with presumably cheaper E15 blends. That would be a mistake.

E15 gasoline will be cheaper because we already paid for it with decades of taxpayer subsidies that the Congressional Budget Office says cost taxpayers $1.78 every time a gallon of ethanol replaced a gallon of gasoline. Ethanol blends also get lower mileage than gasoline. More ethanol means even fewer miles per tank. E15 savings at the pump mean higher costs per mile.

Ethanol collects water, which can cause engine stalls. It corrodes plastic, rubber and soft metal parts. Pre-2001 car engines, parts and systems may not be able to handle E15, which could also increase emissions and adversely affect engine, fuel-pump and sensor durability. Older cars and motorcycles mistakenly fueled (or for the price or convenience) with E15 could conk out on congested highways or in the middle of nowhere, boat engines could die in the face of a thunderstorm, and snowmobiles could sputter out in a frigid wilderness.

Homeowners and yard-care professionals say E15’s corrosive qualities could damage their gasoline-powered equipment. Because it burns hotter than gasoline, it could also cause lawn mowers, chain saws , trimmers and other power equipment to start inadvertently or to catch fire.

The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to grant a waiver for new fuel additives or blends only if it has demonstrated that they will not damage the emission-control devices of “any” engine in the existing inventory. The agency claims to have done so, but lawsuit plaintiffs say it ignored studies that indicate serious potential problems with this high-ethanol fuel blend.

Largely because of corn-based ethanol, U.S. corn prices shot up from an annual average of $1.96 per bushel in 2005 to $6.01 in 2011. E15 fuels will worsen the problem, especially in poor crop years.

Ethanol mandates mean more revenue and profits for corn growers and ethanol makers. However, skyrocketing corn prices mean beef, pork, poultry, egg and fish producers pay more for corn-based feed; grocery manufacturers pay more for corn, meat, fish and corn syrup; and families see prices soar for almost everything on their dinner table.

Even worse, the price of tortillas and tamales also skyrocketed, leaving countless poor Latin American families even more destitute. Soaring corn and wheat prices have also made it harder for the United States Agency for International Development and the World Food Organization to feed the world’s malnourished children.

This is immoral, and yet we hear ethanol promoters like Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis say, “For 40 years, we have been addicted to foreign oil. Our nation needs E15 to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep gas prices down at the pump.” Nonsense.

America is blessed with centuries of untapped petroleum resources that ecologists, unthinking politicians, EPA officials and subsidy-obsessed renewable-energy lobbyists seem intent on keeping locked up.

These deposits cannot be developed overnight. However, 40 years is not overnight. Yet, that’s how long America has kept Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, our outer continental shelf and most of our Western states’ public resources off-limits to leasing, exploration and drilling.

If we had started 20, 10 or even five years ago, energy from these areas would already be slashing imports and cutting world crude and U.S. pump prices. Within two years of approval, the Keystone XL pipeline would carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude from Canada, Montana and North Dakota every day to Texas refineries - with similar effects.

Developing these resources would also generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in annual government revenues.

Instead, we are burning food to fuel cars and trucks. To do so, we are already consuming one-fourth of America’s entire corn crop, from an area almost the size of Iowa - and using trillions of gallons of water and vast quantities of petroleum-based fertilizer, insecticides and energy.

Anti-hydrocarbon ideologies and “renewable” energy mythologies continue to subsidize crony capitalists and the politicians they help keep in office - on the backs of taxpayers, ratepayers, motorists and hungry people.

The EPA and environmental activists must end their animosity toward petroleum and obsession with biofuels - and start embracing reliable, affordable energy that actually works.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death” (Merril Press, 2010).

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