Gut-Check Time: NMA Newsletter #335

For many motorists, it is tough to remember what driving an automobile with pure gasoline in the tank was like. E10—gasoline cut with 10 percent ethanol—has been commonplace for well over a dozen years, and E15 is also available for light-duty vehicles of 2001 and later vintage.

Ethanol for fuel use reached about 13 billion gallons in 2014, about 10 percent of the gasoline pumped into cars and trucks that year. What do drivers have to show for it? For starters, less fuel economy and power. Ethanol contains about one third less energy than pure gasoline. There also is the question of potential engine damage caused by gasoline spiked with alcohol. Ethanol can hold more moisture than gas and if not handled properly in the transport and storage phases, the extra water content can cause corrosive damage to engines.

We wrote the following in an August 2010 e-newsletter:

The NMA has long criticized the federal ethanol mandate as a huge public policy farce. We weren’t alone, but thoroughly ignored. 

We argued that ethanol does not make the air cleaner. Ethanol will not reduce our dependency of oil, foreign or domestic. Ethanol is a net negative for the environment. The subsidies for ethanol steal funds that could improve our highways. The prices for food grains are increased. And, ethanol is harmful to many forms of non-automotive internal combustion engines. The kicker is that any rational expert, right-wing, green, or capitalist, on the subject, does not seriously disagree with our arguments!

So why now, after another five years have been added to the timeline and ethanol use is more prevalent than before, is it gut-check time? The answer lies somewhere between 14 and 20. That is the number of main party presidential candidates that have declared for 2016 and the handful who will probably declare in the near future. (See the chart below.)

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Will any of these candidates have the intestinal fortitude to call for a roll-back in ethanol use, particularly when a weak showing in the Iowa caucus has kept many a campaign from getting off the ground? There are three sure things that Americans face: death, taxes, and political candidates who will do anything to not get crosswise with voters.

The Iowa caucuses are a scant 7-1/2 months away. The question is whether the collective voice of the motorist will be louder than that of the Iowa corn growers. Regardless of your political persuasion or your candidate preference, use the intervening months to let each campaign know how you feel about ethanol-blended gasoline. The critical questions haven’t changed since the 2010 e-newsletter:

  • How can ethanol reduce our dependence on foreign oil when it takes as much, or more, energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy a gallon of ethanol can deliver?
  • How can ethanol help clean our air when its production puts more pollution in the atmosphere than the oil it is supposed to replace and makes no difference in the emissions of fuel-injected vehicles?
  • How many billions of dollars could be invested in our highways and bridges if the subsidies for ethanol were eliminated?
  • With water becoming an increasingly valuable commodity in many parts of the country, why aren’t you speaking out against a mandate for a fuel that uses three gallons of water to produce one gallon of that fuel?

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