- - Sunday, May 22, 2016


Washington overflows with bad ideas. The Environmental Protection Agency’s ethanol mandate for truck and automobile fuel is a big one. Rather than think again unworkable rules, the EPA doubles down, or in this case doubles up, raising the bar for compliance ever higher. If cars would run best on ethanol, the federal government wouldn’t have to force it on the American motorist.

EPA regulators announced last week that it will require the nation’s oil refineries to add 18.8 billion gallons of ethanol, extracted from corn and other vegetables, to gasoline in 2017. This is a 3.8 percent increase over this year’s mandate and still well below the target of 24 billion gallons. The refineries can’t add that much without breaking a cap of 10 percent corn to gasoline. Rather than erase an unattainable requirement, the agency simply leaves the requirement in place and issues itself a “waiver.” The bureaucrats can declare mission accomplished. “The Renewable Fuel Standards program is a success story that has driven biofuel production and use in the United States to levels higher than any other nation,” says Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

The oil companies answer the EPA’s huzzahs for itself with a loud Bronx cheer. “EPA’s proposal threatens to force consumers to use more biofuel than vehicles, engines and fueling infrastructure can handle,” says Chet Thompson, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. “This proposal provides more evidence that Congress should finally step in and repeal or significantly reform this broken program.”

Requiring refiners to adulterate gasoline with the corn and leafy green vegetables that are good for you and the kids is not so good for the car. E10, the gasoline with 10 percent ethanol sold at most gasoline stations, reduces engine performance, lowers gasoline mileage and provides less energy. The mix can strangle the small engines that power homeowner tools, despite manufacturer reassurance. That’s a considerable cost to those homeowners who must replace lawn mowers, string trimmers and chainsaws and consign their ruined machines to the landfill.

Mired in the throes of a war in the Middle East in 2005, renewing the Renewable Fuels Standard to wean motorists from their dependence on foreign oil and cultivate a ready domestic alternative in ethanol, looked like a good move to President George W. Bush and Congress. Since then, a global economic slowdown and a restoration of domestic oil drilling — including fracking — has made the United States the world’s No. 1 producer, and eased anxiety over the fuel supply. But the EPA’s commitment to corn is secure for the moment.

Politicians in states where corn is king won’t allow a reduction in the flow of ethanol, since the EPA mandates guarantee a market for their corn crops. “While we’re encouraged that the EPA made slight increases with the volume levels, their proposal falls far short,” complains Terry Branstad, the Republican governor of Iowa (“where the tall corn grows.)”

The EPA’s 2017 proposal for ethanol will be made final later this year. The November election will provide an opportunity to embrace new leadership that could reject worn-out ideas. One of the first worn-out idea that ought to go is the notion that the nation’s trucks and automobiles must run on something from the vegetable garden.

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