Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 10, 2013

Mr. Slick and Dummy encourage us to ignore the negatives of ethanol


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — There’s a TV commercial featuring a ventriloquist named Mr. Slick and his dummy, named “Dummy,” promoting the wondrous benefits of ethanol, not by actually listing those specific benefits — as one ought to do if one has real benefits to tout — but by implying that the evil oil companies don’t want you to know about them. Dummy answers questions that make the oil companies look bad, and Mr. Slick, portraying an evil oil baron, is horrified at Dummy’s responses and eventually puts his hand over Dummy’s mouth to shut him up. The announcer then asks the question, “Why don’t the oil companies want you to know the truth about ethanol?”

Ethanol has some useful qualities, like reducing the amount of petroleum-based fuels that are burned and the pollution they produce, but it has many disadvantages.

The all-knowing central planners at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have decreed that gasoline must currently have 10 percent ethanol (E10) mixed in, and the EPA is raising that requirement by 50 percent (E15), thus increasing by a half the negatives of ethanol in gasoline.

Putting ethanol in fuel means currently that approximately 40 percent of the corn from which ethanol is made is used for ethanol instead of food and animal feed. The amount of corn we burn could feed an estimated 570 million people annually. Shifting that much food corn to ethanol production raises the cost of food corn for human and animal consumption, as well as other food crops, such as wheat and hops, because farmers stop growing those crops and start growing corn to get the federal subsidies, and that creates shortages and higher prices for those crops, too. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study prepared for the National Council of Chain Restaurants said the federal ethanol mandate cost each restaurant $18,000 a year in higher food prices. Guess who pays that additional cost?

Every gallon of ethanol produced requires five gallons of water, and that affects the dry western states where ethanol is produced by shifting more of the sometimes-scarce liquid to farmers and away from urban areas, and could easily lead to water shortages and/or higher urban water prices.

Worse, however, is the great potential for damage to gas storage tanks, pumping equipment, other equipment involved in the delivery chain and engines that are the end user of ethanol in fuels. This point is supported by a December 2010 study commissioned by the Department of Energy that found 40 percent of new dispensing equipment designed for use with E10 fuels had failed tests, and 70 percent of previously used E10 equipment failed tests.

Ethanol fuels are deadly to small gasoline engines, such as lawnmowers, string trimmers, chain saws, boat motors, motorcycles and ATVs to the extent that manufacturers may void warranties when these fuels are used in their products.

Gasoline stabilizers must be added to ethanol infused gasoline to protect these smaller engines, at a cost, of course. But, however, owners of these machines have an option that car and truck owners don’t have: they can buy pure gasoline that has no added ethanol for only $20 to $32 a gallon.

If you get decent miles per gallon from your car or truck, you’d be getting even better mileage without ethanol in your gas. Ethanol 10 and E15 mixtures routinely get fewer miles per gallon because ethanol contains less energy than pure gasoline. Estimates of lost miles per gallon range from 3 to 5 percent, to as high as 20 percent.

The Renewable Fuel Standard mandates the use of corn-based ethanol and other biofuels for transportation fuel. It promised less dependence on foreign oil and lower fuel prices and greenhouse gas emissions; however, many view the mandate as an economic and environmental boondoggle.

The benefits of infusing gasoline with ethanol to improve emissions from gas burning vehicles and tools are unclear. There has been some reduction in the use of petroleum in fuels, but the price we have paid for it has been comparatively high when the costs of producing ethanol and blending it with gasoline are considered, along with the increased prices of food for humans and animal feed. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has launched a bipartisan review of the Renewable Fuel Standard to determine its level of success.

Government efforts to make our lives better nearly always fail, or at least unleash new problems on the American people. The feds thought incandescent light bulbs that have served us so well for so long used to much energy, so they have mandated that we use the new CFL bulbs, which do use less electricity, but cost more and contain mercury, and create a haz-mat emergency when one of them brakes. Efforts to clean up emissions from electricity production have produced job losses in the coal and power industries and forced the sale of more domestic coal to foreign countries that do not make any effort to clean up their emissions.

Government mandates cost us billions of dollars a year for compliance, plus the cost of the bureaucracy to create and monitor compliance with regulations. Given the poor record of success the government has amassed, we’d be much better off with less government interference.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.