New Study On Ethanol In The Energy Bill

The energy bill that has passed the House and awaits a Senate vote removes the EPA’s fuel oxygenate requirement. Congress should be congratulated for acting on the EPA’s analysis from 1999 showing ethanol and other fuel oxygenate additives do not help clean the air, and their recommendation that oxygenate requirements be eliminated.

But choosing to expand ethanol mandates as a renewable energy initiative is a big mistake. Using more ethanol will increase our dependence on foreign oil and impose costs that far outweigh its benefits. Overall, the proposed ethanol mandates will cost Americans $18-23 billion more than they will benefit.

A new Reason report adds up the benefit of increasing ethanol use, and the costs, and concludes that the mandates are bad public policy. Ethanol provides less energy than gasoline, and takes so much more energy to produce and distribute, that the ethanol mandates in the energy bill Congress is considering will substantially increase our use of oil, either domestic or imported.

You can read at a summary of the report “A Federal Ethanol Mandate: Is It Worth It? If Not, Why Is It So Popular?”, or the whole report. The Reason website also has available Congressional testimony of mine from July 2003 on fuel oxygenates in California, and a commentary on how ill-advised ethanol mandates are from Joel Schwartz.

Ethanol does not help clean the air and it is not a renewable energy source. In fact, ethanol used for fuel generates formaldehyde, a toxic chemical. Our environment doesn’t need that kind of “preservation.” Ethanol mandates do nothing but benefit special interests at a very high cost to all Americans.

2 thoughts on “New Study On Ethanol In The Energy Bill

  1. Thank you for this information and analysis about ethanol. I would also like to point out the negative impacts of ethanol production plants. Last year at this time two 40 million gallon/year ethanol plants were proposed within two mile of my house in south central Wisconsin. Now I try very hard not to be a NIMBY-ist (Not In My Back Yard) but when it comes to corn-based ethanol and the huge corporate subsidies, the negative energy balance of producing it, the perpetuation of monocrop surplus commodity agriculture, and the negative impacts on air and water quality in its production i am a NOPE-ist (Not On Planet Earth)!

  2. There is some bad math in the anaylysis of the net productivity of using ethanol as a fuel.

    There is a (undocumented) reference to a Cornell study in the Reason PDF, claiming it requires 1000 Gallons of fuel per acre to raise corn. I grew up on a large farm. At this rate we would have used around 2,000,000 galllons of fuel per year.

    We had a 500 Gallon tank on our farm. It would have required 4000 refills on this tank to keep us supplied throughout the year at this rate, or around 10 refills per day. The traffic from the fuel trucks refuelling our farm would have been hard to miss.

    I called some farmers Central Illinois to get a first hand figure on the amount of (mostly diesel) fuel consumed per acre farmed. The average number I calculated was around 25 Gallons Per Acre (including Anhydrous Ammonia, which is derived from fossil fuel).

    The Reason/Cornell number is off by a factor of 40. This is significant. Has anyone at Cornell/Reason checked with a few Corn Farmers to see if their study-numbers are even close to realistic?

    40% would be a reasonable error; 400% error would be a bad guess, but a 4000% error is just plain propaganda.

    John Powers

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