Monday, December 27, 2010

End The Ethanol Insanity.......

Ethanol damages engines and is not a viable alternative to fossil fuels, but farmers and lobbyists don't want you to know that, says Ed Wallace

IT IS now conceivable that the myth of ethanol as the salvation for America’s energy problem is coming to an end. And maybe we always should have known it would wind up in italics, underlined, with the real facts of the damage ethanol can do to gas-powered motors laid out for all to see in a court of law. I say that because this past Monday a group calling itself the Engine Products Group, comprising small-engine manufacturers, automakers, and boat manufacturers, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to vacate the EPA’s October ruling that using a 15 percent blend of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supplies would not harm 2007 and newer vehicles.

The automakers claim they have no idea whether a higher percentage of ethanol would damage their newer cars—and won’t know until their testing is completed next year. The boat manufacturers claim their engines stay in service much longer, and are therefore more likely to be damaged by this fuel. The small-engine manufacturers are positive E15 would severely shorten the life of their products. According to The Washington Post, that’s already been happening. The source is Mick Matuskey, co-owner of Power and Lawn Equipment of Gaithersburg, Md., who said, “You’re getting half of the life out of the product today [when using E10 ethanol], compared to 30, 40 years ago.”

Ultimately this lawsuit stems from one major issue: Manufacturers have to take legal action to protect their customers from the damage higher blends of ethanol would do to their motors, because their warranties generally don’t cover it. Of course, no such lawsuit would be complete without the ethanol lobby trying to obfuscate the facts of the case. Reuters quoted Tom Buis, head of lobbying group Growth Energy, as saying of the new proposed fuel, “E15 is safe for all vehicles on the road today.”

That’s patently untrue. For years cars nationwide have been damaged when motorists ended up with more than 10 percent ethanol in their fuel. I covered that situation last year in ‘The Great Ethanol Scam’. But ethanol’s newest public-relations problem actually started in the last eight days of November. Having been fervidly pro-ethanol in the last decade of his political career, former Vice-President Al Gore reversed course and apologised for supporting ethanol. Of course, Gore’s reason for taking his original position was perfectly understandable—to a politician. As he told energy conference attendees in Athens, Greece, “One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers of Iowa because I was about to run for President.”

Translated from politics-speak into English: Pandering to farmers gets votes. But if your claimed position is to plan some sort of smart energy policy for America, then getting farmers’ votes shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Curiously, after Energy Secretary Steven Chu admitted on Nov. 29 that ethanol really isn’t any sort of intelligent plan for our nation’s gasoline supplies, Energy Dept. spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller issued that same day a statement vitiating Chu’s comments: “Secretary Chu believes that biofuels can, should, and will vastly expand the economic opportunities for America’s farmers today and in the future.”

One has to wonder whether Mueller understands that Secretary Chu was talking about the business and energy illogic of using food-based fuel for gasoline, not to mention that ethanol is just another farm subsidy program that the public is being told is our best chance to wean ourselves off Middle Eastern oil.

And with farm incomes already up 31 percent in 2010, according to a Dec. 1 article in The Wall Street Journal, why do we need to continue the ethanol foolishness at all? If one is to believe all the business reporting on this subject, speculators have returned en masse to the commodities market (including oil); speculation has already boosted the price of corn by more than $2 a bushel since July. Then again, wheat prices showed similar gains from June to November. So it’s fair to say that many food crop prices on the Chicago Board of Trade were dynamic. Corn prices will go up whether it’s being diverted for fuel or not.

Just before this rash of political honesty, in October the Environmental Protection Agency released its own study concluding that vehicles built in 2007 and since could use gasoline with ethanol in a 15 percent blend without doing any noticeable damage. That seemingly was a green light for gas-station owners to pay for yet another tank and pump to handle this new blend of fuel.

For background, “the EPA’s study” relied on testing by our Energy Dept., a situation that Representative Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) questioned because the EPA is quite capable of doing these tests on its own. This way, however, if a 15 percent blend of ethanol in the gas supply does not perform as expected and numerous vehicles suffer disabling damage as a consequence, the EPA theoretically could shift the blame onto the Energy Dept.’s tests. Yes, that’s the same Energy Dept. whose head said in the last week of November that the future of transportation shouldn’t involve ethanol.

Then, on Dec. 20 automobile manufacturers, boat manufacturers, and the makers of small gas engines filed that lawsuit against the EPA for approving this higher level of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supplies. Meanwhile, the EPA said testing will continue to determine whether a 15 percent blend of ethanol can be used in vehicles older than 2007 models, but put off making the final ruling on those tests. At this point it should be noted the entire logic for forcing more ethanol on the public is the fact that a congressional mandate will increase the amount of ethanol we use to 13.95 billion gallons in 2011.

According to government estimates of total gasoline usage in the U.S., this means all gasoline in America would wind up with a 7.95 percent ethanol blend next year. But that’s based on the assumption gasoline sales will continue to grow as the economy moves slowly toward full recovery, and that assumption may not be valid. In 2010 the low demand for gasoline and the mandate to use ethanol forced an 8.25 percent blend into the nation’s gasoline supply.

An ill-thought-out mandate combines with the power of a political cycle, and no one seems to know when to say “Stop, that’s enough.” It starts with a bad idea: Putting an energy-inefficient fuel filler into the nation’s gas supply and calling that an energy policy. Quickly, engineers and scientists, such as UC-Berkeley’s Tad Patzek, discovered that using corn as the base ingredient at best yields zero improvement; energy used to create the product just barely covers the energy the product delivers to the end users, meaning motorists. At worst it’s a net energy loser. Yet Congress is not forced to re-examine its mandate based on scientific evidence.

The older cars owned by those less financially secure will be the first to go. Maybe when it starts happening to those on more solid financial ground, then someone will listen: Adding an expensive, harmful, useless filler to gasoline just to win farmers’ gratitude is not remotely the same as having a legitimate national energy policy.
—Bloomberg BusinessWeek

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