One of the fascinating characteristics of a free society is that there seems to be no subject whose merits are free from debate. Even the virtues of motherhood and apple pie (well, at least apple pie--sugar, cholesterol) today do not go unchallenged.
So it is with the once universally-acclaimed "miracle fuel", ethanol. As Congress moves closer to enacting a long-debated comprehensive energy bill requiring the use of ethanol in gasoline, claims of alleged flaws in using ethanol have begun to echo through political and scientific chambers.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for instance, has decried the proposed required use of ethanol. In a press release on his website, the Senator argues:
US Senator Charles E. Schumer has taken on the powerful ethanol lobby in Washington in an effort to kill a provision in the Senate Energy Bill that would send New York's gas prices skyrocketing, cut almost $500 million in highway and mass transit funding for the state, and exempt the makers and distributors of gasoline additives from lawsuits if their product turns out to be defective. The provision would require gas refiners throughout the country to use ethanol in reformulating their gasoline and would extend a number of liability protections to the makers and distributors of gasoline additives.
"The ethanol tax is an astonishing, anti-consumer requirement that would force every refiner in the country to use an ever-increasing amount of ethanol or pay a penalty," Schumer said. "But guess who really gets stuck with paying that fine – you, me, and anyone else who drives and pays for gas."
Using Energy Department figures, Hart/IRI Fuels Information Services (an independent consultant) projected that gas prices throughout the country would increase by a staggering 4 to 9.7 cents per gallon as a result of the ethanol mandate. In New York, prices would shoot up by an average of 7 cents a gallon starting in 2003 if the bill becomes law. In 2012, those prices would rise even higher since the bill requires ethanol to be used by a percentage equivalent to the proportion of ethanol in the entire US gas supply.
"In other words, as more and more ethanol is used and gasoline consumption grows, the nation's ethanol producers will be hitting the lottery while the nation's drivers will be losing their shirts every time they fill up their tanks," Schumer said. "Maybe they have a different name for it in the Corn Belt, but in my neighborhood that's called highway robbery."
The Atlanta Chronicle has recently published a column by a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis which jumps on the anti-ethanol bandwagon:
Because it absorbs water, ethanol cannot be shipped through existing pipelines used to transport unblended gasoline - the water it absorbs could separate, causing pipelines and fuel lines to freeze, and perhaps burst, during cold weather. The same problem will make engines run less efficiently in cold-climate areas.
Worse, most studies show that it takes more energy to produce and deliver a gallon of ethanol than the energy it produces - a net loss of energy. Imported fossil fuels are used to produce, distill and transport ethanol.
Thus requiring that the United States use five to 8 billion gallons of ethanol - a mandate that Congress is currently considering - means burning more, not less, imported oil and natural gas.
WHILE ETHANOL reduces carbon monoxide, it increases the emissions of volatile organic compounds that are a prime component of the smog, which plagues many U.S. cities.
Worse, when ethanol is burned, it emits acetaldehide - considered a probable human carcinogen by the EPA - and peroxyacetyl nitrate, which damages plants.
Ethanol would likely disappear from the marketplace absent federal subsidies and mandates. Like so much of the pork Congress bestows upon special interests, ethanol is bad for the economy, bad for consumers and bad for the environment.
Corn deserves a place on the nation's dinner table for its nutritional value, but it doesn't belong in the gas tanks of millions of U.S. motor vehicles.
For the complete column, go here.
My perception is that, because (among possibly other reasons) an ethanol mandate would be such a boon to various Midwestern/agricultural States' economies, the mandate will survive in some form. Nevertheless, it is obvious ethanol is not about to join motherhood as an object of universal acclaim.