Policy: Environment & Energy

Industry experts slam ethanol mandate as bad for engines, environment

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Beltway Confidential,EPA,Ashe Schow,Farm Bill,Energy and Environment,Oil,Ethanol

It is widely known that using an ethanol-blend gasoline can harm vehicle engines, but did you know that it also hurts boat engines, increases the price of food globally and hurts the environment?

Industry experts said Wednesday on a press call that the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard for the first time since it originated in 2005 was a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done to curb the ethanol mandate.

“EPA’s unprecedented decision to reduce the amount of corn ethanol that is blended in gasoline is an explicit recognition that the RFS is badly broken,” Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, said.

Faber pointed to an EPA regulatory analysis that concluded “corn ethanol is producing more [greenhouse gas] emissions than the gasoline it was designed to displace, and that our heavy reliance on corn ethanol is a significant source of water and air pollution.”

The study in question (which was forbidden from being cited or quoted) shows corn ethanol as having a large negative impact on water, air and soil quality. The study further shows that plowing forest, pasture and wetlands to produce biofuels releases carbon stored in the soil and creates a “carbon debt” that could take many years for the biofuel lifecycle to pay down.

Faber also pointed to an April 2013 Clean Air Task Force paper that forecast greenhouse gas emissions from corn ethanol over 30 years to be 28 percent higher than from gasoline.

But beyond damage to the environment, ethanol also increases global food prices, leading to more hunger.

Katie Campbell, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid, said the share of corn diverted from food to fuel has gone from 5 percent to 40 percent since 2000, which has created food price volatility.

Campbell cited a 2012 study from Tufts University which calculated the additional costs from higher corn prices for importing countries. Net corn importing countries, Campbell said, “spent $11.6 billion more in higher corn prices over the five trade years ending in 2011, with more than half of that cost, $6.6 billion, being borne by developing countries.”

Those higher food costs hurt food producers in the way of livestock feed, and also hurt consumers.

“As corn comprises nearly 70 percent of the feed given to chickens, our single largest input cost, rising prices directly affect farmers' bottom lines,” Mike Brown, president of the National Chicken Council, said. “Since the RFS was aggressively escalated in 2007, average annual feed costs have skyrocketed by $8.8 billion annually for poultry producers.

This, Brown says, leads to higher prices at the grocery store for consumers.

“Chicken, beef, pork, egg and fish prices have collectively increased 79 percent since the policy's establishment,” Brown said. “Last year, the average U.S. family of four faced a $2,000 increase in food costs due to higher corn prices brought on largely by the RFS.”

And in addition to hurting car engines, ethanol is “poison” to the engines of boats, according to BoatUS Government Affairs Representative Nicole Wood.

“Over 63 percent of our members fuel their boats at roadside gas stations. With 180,000 stations now approved to sell E15, a fuel that no marine engine is warrantied to run on, the opportunity for misfueling must be acknowledged,” Wood said. “And what may result in a roadside breakdown for a car, can quickly lead to a search-and-rescue mission or search-and-recovery mission in a boat.”

On Thursday, many of these experts will speak during an EPA public hearing to push for further action by Congress to ensure the EPA doesn’t raise the RFS in the future.

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