Debates Overshadow the Truth About Ethanol

The Republican presidential debates have been among the best entertainment on television. Unfortunately, the histrionics have tended to overshadow the issues and cloud the facts. Such is the case with the ethanol mandate, which Donald Trump supports and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants to end.

History has proven that the ethanol mandate was a bad idea when it was enacted a decade ago, and it is an even worse idea today. When Congress approved the mandate, gasoline demand was soaring, fuel prices were climbing, and the United States was importing huge amounts of foreign oil. Our lawmakers decided America should create homegrown fuels, including corn ethanol, to reduce dependence on foreign oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

These were laudable goals. But Congress did not anticipate that America soon would produce more of its own energy. Hydraulic fracturing, directional drilling and other advanced drilling technologies have unleashed torrents of energy from shale formations.

In fact, U.S. crude oil production growth in 2014 was the largest in more than 100 years, increasing by 1.2 million barrels per day to a total of 8.7 million barrels per day. During the past five years, U.S. natural gas production climbed by 13.9 billion cubic feet per day, outstripping both Russia and Saudi Arabia. These countries now are world’s second and third largest hydrocarbon producers.

Today the United States has a glut of domestic oil, which has lowered oil and gasoline prices substantially. The average pump price for unleaded regular gasoline in South Carolina is about $1.60 a gallon. In 2008, it topped out at $4.12 a gallon, according to AAA.

Despite our oil abundance, U.S. consumers are stuck with an ethanol mandate that requires consumers to use E10 in their tanks, a blend of 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent ethanol. Most cars and trucks on the road today can handle this fuel blend, but ethanol-blended fuels, particularly fuels containing more than 10 percent ethanol, have been blamed for damaging vehicles, marine engines, and outdoor equipment.

Yet the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has continued to order the fuel industry to add more ethanol to gasoline each year, and fuel providers are warning they could be forced to exceed the recommended 10 percent limit. Ethanol tends to attract water and can corrode gaskets and certain engine parts.  The American Petroleum Institute, which sets standards for fuels and energy equipment, recommends that gasoline contain no more than 9.87 percent ethanol.

Furthermore, corn ethanol production is not as environmentally friendly as Congress thought. The Environmental Working Group says in 2014 alone the ethanol mandate emitted 27 million tons more carbon dioxide into the air, making it worse for the environment than straight gasoline.

Here’s another fact that has been ignored during the debates. The ethanol mandate cost consumers an estimated $83 billion between 2007 and 2014 in higher fuel costs. Simply put, it has taken money out of the wallets of motorists and transferred it to the pockets of the ethanol interests. It’s no wonder ethanol is so popular in Iowa and other big corn-producing states.

Policies that favor ethanol producers over consumers do not make sense. At a time when many American households are looking for ways to reduce their costs, they should not be forced to pay more for fuel under a government mandate.

The ethanol mandate should be repealed. Government edicts and federal subsidies for special interests are not the best way to improve our energy security and the environment. The free-market system and American ingenuity are far more effective.  The president candidates should give credit where it is due—to the mineral rights owners who are allowing drillers to harvest energy from their properties and the scientists and engineers who developed the shale energy technologies.

Morning Consult