The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

December 19, 2013

Other Views: Repeal ethanol mandate

Dysfunction in the federal government may be at an all-time high, but lawmakers are finding bipartisan unity regarding one goal: repeal of the ethanol fuel mandate.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has teamed with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to author legislation repealing the federal mandate that requires an ever-increasing amount of ethanol-blended fuels in the U.S. supply, regardless of actual consumer demand, market realities or real-world negative consequences.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires that 35 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent biofuels and 1 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel be refined by 2022. This was never a great idea — it would be far better to allow consumer preference and market demand to hold sway — but at least when the mandate was originally imposed, officials had reason to believe U.S. fuel consumption would continue increasing and domestic oil production would decline.

That hasn’t been the case.

In 2007, U.S. gasoline consumption totaled around 145 billion gallons; this year’s consumption is expected to be closer to 120 billion gallons. Thanks to the fracking revolution, domestic production of oil has surged and imports have declined by more than 72 percent since 2005.

To meet the current mandate under those conditions could force production of gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol instead of the current 10 percent blend. Most auto manufacturers warn that E-15 fuel will damage engines and void a car’s warranty. A study by the economic consulting firm NERA also found mandating E-15 could increase the cost of gasoline by up to 30 percent by 2015.

Feinstein was blunt in her assessment of the ethanol mandate’s impact, noting it has caused roughly 44 percent of U.S. corn to be diverted from food to fuel, increasing consumer food costs. She declared the mandate is damaging the environment.

That last statement may surprise many, since ethanol was touted as a “green” fuel that would reduce global warming. But Paul Driessen, senior policy adviser for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, notes, “We are already plowing an area bigger than Iowa to grow corn for ethanol — millions of acres that could be food crops or wildlife habitat.” To meet biodiesel mandates will require “converting countless more acres from food or habitat to energy.” Driessen also notes that fracking oil production “requires 0.6 to 6.0 gallons of fresh or brackish water per million Btu of energy produced,” but that “corn-based ethanol requires 2,500 to 29,000 gallons of fresh water per million Btu of energy.”

The ethanol mandate was enacted to solve a problem that no longer exists and is now harming the environment. It’s creating financial hardship for citizens without offsetting benefits. That lawmakers from both political parties recognize this reality and support the mandate’s repeal is reason to cheer.

— The Daily Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

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