The EPA’s ethanol boondoggle

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

In January, the EPA issued a waiver to allow 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. 

I sent letters to the major US automakers to investigate how E15 would affect people’s cars.  Overwhelmingly the automakers complained that E15 would void warranties, damage engines, and lower fuel efficiency. To date, I have received 12 responses, and all 12 oppose EPA’s waiver.

According to Honda, “Vehicle engines were not designed or built to accommodate the higher concentrations of ethanol. . .There appears to be the potential for engine failure.” Chrysler wrote, “We are not confident that our vehicles will not be damaged from the use of E15.”

It is summer time 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 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 consumer confusion is to impose more regulations and rules on manufacturers and business owners. 

The decision to increase the allowable blend appears to have limited environmental benefits with huge costs for 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 E10.”

The government has artificially propped up the ethanol industry with a 45-cent- a-gallon subsidy to oil refiners and a 54 cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. The ethanol lobby claimed the biofuel would reduce our dependence on unstable sources of oil and reduce greenhouse gas. After $6 billion per year of taxpayer 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 southeastern Wisconsin, we already have to deal with the consequences of the EPA-imposed reformulated gas. Despite history’s warnings, the EPA has allowed E15 to be widely available in the marketplace.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently held a hearing to examine the science behind the EPA’s decision to allow E15. While the political tide on Capitol Hill is turning against prolonging the ethanol boondoggle, the Administration seems to have missed the memo. The EPA is moving forward with a bad policy that will cost consumers dearly.

Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. represents Wisconsin’s Fifth District.

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