Poor Flex-fuel Availability Contributes to Oil Consumption

The Senate energy bill, H.R. 6, has a number of provisions to increase our nation’s energy independence, lower energy costs for families, and reduce pollution that contributes to global warming.  The provision that would have the most impact is fuel economy standards, which would improve gas mileage to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

The auto industry spent the last 20 years fighting measures to improve mileage standards.  Their latest effort is led by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Kit Bond. (R-Mo.)  They plan to offer an amendment that would achieve no more than one third of the oil reductions and savings to families compared to the bipartisan Senate energy bill.  One of the reasons for this difference is that the substitute amendment attempts to achieve oil reductions via the production of flex-fuel vehicles.  Unfortunately, these flex-fuel cars won’t run on ethanol because of the general unavailability of this fuel. 

A study found that more than 99 percent of flex-fuel cars, which can reduce oil use if they use E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, run on regular gasoline because E85 is not available.  Only 1,133 public service stations out of 170,000 sell E85.  More than one third of these stations are in Illinois and Minnesota.  New Jersey has 116,512 FFV’s and zero E85 stations.  There are twelve other states and Washington D.C. that no not have a single E85 station, covering an area that is approximately one third of the continental United States and have a combined 404,877 FFV’s.  Overall, there are two thirds fewer service stations per vehicle available for FFV’s to purchase E85 compared to service stations per regular vehicles.

To achieve reductions from flex fuel vehicles, Congress must require oil companies to offer E85 at significantly more service stations than they do today.  Until that occurs, producing more FFV’s won’t significantly reduce oil use.  The Levin-Bond proposal fails to reduce our oil consumption or to increase the use of cleaner, alternative fuels.  We can do better.