Planet Gore

The EPA’s Ethanol Boondoggle

Congress may have finally recognized the absurdity of subsidizing the ethanol industry, but, unfortunately for America, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its own agenda.

In January, the EPA issued a waiver that allowed E15 (gasoline with a 15 percent ethanol blend) to be sold for vehicles with model years 2001 and later. This decision was made at the behest of the ethanol industry, but it will come at the expense of American drivers.

While the EPA deemed E15 environmentally safe for models produced after 2001, this higher blend of gas could seriously damage cars. Don’t take my word for it, just ask those who built them. 

I sent letters to the major U.S. automakers to investigate how E15 would affect people’s cars. The response was startling. Overwhelmingly , I received complaints that E15 would void warranties, damage engines, and lower fuel efficiency. To date, I have received twelve responses, and all twelve oppose the EPA’s waiver.

According to Honda, their “vehicle engines were not designed or built to accommodate the higher concentrations of ethanol.” This is not just innocuous hedging by disinterested engineers. The letter continued with the warning that “there appears to be the potential for engine failure.” Chrysler concurred, advising, “we are not confident that our vehicles will not be damaged from the use of E15.”

It is summertime, and we don’t just use gasoline for our cars. Boats, motorcycles, ATVs, and lawnmowers all use gasoline. The EPA did not approve E15 for small engines, but small-engine manufacturers are nonetheless worried that E15 will find its way from gas pumps to small engines, where it can do significant harm. 

Thus far, the EPA’s only solution to the inevitable consumer confusion has been to impose more regulations and rules on manufacturers and business owners. 

The decision to increase the allowable ethanol blend appears to have limited environmental benefits, while imposing huge costs fon American consumers. According to Volvo, “the risks related to emissions are greater than the benefits in terms of CO2 when using low-blend E15 for variants that are designed to use E10.”

The government has artificially propped up the ethanol industry with a 45-cent-per-gallon subsidy to oil refiners, and a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The ethanol lobby claimed that biofuel would reduce our dependence on unstable sources of oil and reduce greenhouse gas. But after $6 billion per year of taxpayers’ money, ethanol has achieved neither goal. Instead, research and analysis shows that increased ethanol production raises the cost of food and emits more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

In southeast Wisconsin, we already have to deal with the consequences of EPA-imposed reformulated gas. Despite history’s warnings, the EPA has allowed E15 to be widely available in the marketplace.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is holding a hearing to examine the science behind the EPA’s decision to waive the restriction on E15. The political tide on Capitol Hill is turning against prolonging the ethanol boondoggle, but the administration seems to have missed the memo. The result is that the EPA is moving forward with a bad policy that will cost consumers dearly.

James Sensenbrenner represents Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District.


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