EPA’s action on ethanol would harm all Americans


If you own a car, boat, or gasoline-powered equipment such as a lawnmower or a chainsaw, you should be worried about a well-funded advertising and public relations campaign now being waged by ethanol producers to rush through hasty Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for higher levels of ethanol in the gasoline you use.

Bob Dinneen, head of the trade association that promotes ethanol, lays out the argument in favor of having the EPA raise the amount of ethanol in gasoline from the current 10 percent to 15 percent in his opinion piece (“EPA procrastinates on declaring independence from imported oil,” June 23).

ADVERTISEMENT
Not surprisingly, Mr. Dinneen neglects to mention that numerous problems with higher ethanol blends have prompted widespread opposition from a broad range of groups, including those representing the environmental and public health communities.

The opponents include the American Lung Association, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, the California Air Resources Board, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. 

These and other groups believe EPA is moving too fast on making a decision regarding an increase in the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline before the completion of adequate testing that will take several years and cost millions of dollars.

Testing will need to evaluate existing data and engineering judgments suggesting a 15 percent ethanol blend (known as E15) may: lead to a significant increase in emissions of environmental pollutants from some engines; damage car and non-road engines; and pose a safety hazard to people operating gasoline-powered equipment.

Consumers whose vehicles and equipment was ruined by E15 — or who suffered serious injury or worse as the result of engine malfunctions — would have the right to file lawsuits seeking monetary damages.

This leaves the manufacturers of cars, trucks, boats, gasoline-powered equipment, and gasoline potentially liable for huge amounts of damages resulting from E15 use.

If Mr. Dinneen and the ethanol industry are so certain E15 would not cause environmental, personal injury and engine problems, the industry should step forward to assume legal liability to pay for any such harm caused by E15. The fact that the industry is unwilling to do this shows that its claims about E15 are based more on rhetoric than reality.

Science — not speed — should be EPA’s guiding principle regarding ethanol levels in gasoline. It’s important that EPA make its decision based on accurate and complete scientific testing, rather than lobbying and political arguments by those who stand to benefit financially by big increases in ethanol consumption.

Charles T. Drevna, President of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, Washington

Ethanol damages cars, pollutes environment

Bob Dinneen’s June 22 op-ed (“EPA procrastinates on declaring independence from imported oil”) chastises the EPA for choosing to fully study ethanol’s potential impacts on cars before allowing higher levels to be blended into gasoline.  But the oil gushing uncontrollably into the Gulf of Mexico shows what can happen when we blindly follow an industry’s overly-optimistic self-assessment, rather than doing careful research.

The ethanol industry and the Department of Energy have not completed adequate, scientifically and statistically sound testing on car engines to show that ethanol blends of 15 percent, the higher ceiling pushed by the industry, will not cause damage. In fact, even at today’s 10 percent ceiling, ethanol is harming engines:  Last year, Lexus recalled more than 200,000 vehicles for damage from ethanol. Studies have also found that increasing the ethanol percentage in conventional gasoline leads to more air pollution and global warming emissions.

On top of these safety and environmental concerns, ethanol, just like the oil it’s supposed to replace, is an expensive drain on taxpayer wallets.  Mr. Dinneen claims in his op-ed that the ethanol industry contributes $15.9 billion in federal, state, and local taxes to the economy each year, but conveniently omits the fact that at the federal level alone the industry costs taxpayers $11 billion each year.  More than $5 billion of this pot ends up in the coffers of Big Oil.

Of course this isn’t the only connection between Big Oil and ethanol. Ethanol production requires oil: Massive quantities are used in fertilizers for growing corn, to run ethanol factories, and to transport ethanol.

And water pollution from ethanol production was fueling an environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico even before the oil spill, creating a Dead Zone the size of Massachusetts where no marine life can survive.

ADVERTISEMENT
Ethanol is damaging cars, polluting our environment, exacerbating our oil dependence — and certainly not providing a good return on taxpayers’ investment. More realistic, but still optimistic, job impact studies of the ethanol industry result in numbers that are one-seventh of the ethanol lobby’s.

The outcry by the ethanol lobby to increase the blend rate in gasoline is simply another attempt to pad corporate profits, not a genuine call for freedom from oil.  The EPA is right to be hesitant to approve any increase in ethanol levels in gasoline, and should be given time to complete thorough testing, without bullying from expensive lobbyists.

Kate McMahon, Energy Policy Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Washington

More in Energy & Environment

Court upholds EPA’s truck efficiency rules

Read more »