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Comparing the Ethanol Mandate with Projected Ethanol Demand

Consumer Price Index Since Ethanol Mandate

Is your daily driver a race car?

During this weekend’s Daytona 500, you may see and hear a lot about how NASCAR runs on E15, a blend of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — 50 percent more than in traditional gas. Big ethanol will try to use this as an opportunity to tout the benefits of E15 and lobby for its expanded use as an answer to the blend wall.

Unfortunately, your car’s engine likely doesn’t have a lot in common with NASCAR engines, which is where the problems arise. NASCAR teams specifically build engines to run on higher ethanol blends. Beyond that, the engines are rebuilt after every race. Unless you’re rebuilding your engine every day, you should probably take stock of the differences.

According to AAA, 95 percent of automobiles on the road today aren’t designed to run on gasoline that contains more than 10 percent ethanol.

The chart above shows where your car might shake out. If you drive a flex-fuel vehicle(FFV) or a Porsche, go ahead and fill ‘er up with E15, but beware of the lower fuel economy that comes with it.

If you don’t drive a FFV and you fill up using E15, you risk damaging your engine, which may or may not be covered by your warranty.

Luckily, E15 blends are currently only being sold at about 60 gas stations in 12 states, but the EPA has approved its sale across the country.

The simple fact is that outside of a minority of cars on the road today — supercharged NASCAR stock cars — E15 is a blend that isn’t the right fit for Americans. The EPA is currently considering making changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which is the right first step in creating a smarter fuel future for America. Tell Congress to take action on the RFS today.

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Ghosts of Ethanol Past, Present and Future

In the holiday classic A Christmas Carol, the cold-hearted, greedy Ebenezer Scrooge is given a glimpse at his Christmas past, present and future. In our version of the story, we’re going to let you peek at ethanol’s ghosts.

Ethanol Past

While opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (the government’s ethanol mandates policy)is growing today, some have been wary of diverting food to fuel for decades. An article published by Nicholas Wade in 1979 reveals some of the early concerns:

“The rule of thumb in Iowa is that a 1 percent decrease in corn supply raises corn prices by 2 percent.”

Yet today, we divert more than 40 percent of our corn crops to ethanol, and we’ve felt the results in corn prices from the butcher to the baker.

Further, government has been subsidizing “gasohol” for years. In 1979, the going rate was 40 cents per gallon of E10 (a fuel blend containing ten percent ethanol).

And the final lesson from the ghost of ethanol past is this: we’ve been hoping for cellulosic biofuels forever. More on that later…

Ethanol Present

Unfortunately, the realities of today’s ethanol mandate (the RFS) are no better. Refiners, environmentalists, ranchers, world hunger groups, wildlife advocates, journalists and even the Environmental Protection Agency all take issue with one part of the policy or another.

Ethanol Future

All wounds heal with time, right? Actually, no, according to Energy Information Administration. Despite   the ethanol lobby promising that cellulosic (non-corn) biofuels are “just around the corner,” the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) annual American Energy Outlook report tells us that even by 2040, it is unlikely that we’ll be anywhere close to the mandated level of cellulosics.

This means decades more subsidies for the industry and continued reliance on corn to meet the ethanol mandate.

Just like Scrooge, it’s time for Congress to see the error in its ways.

Tell your Congressman to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Ethanol Mandates Demolish Habitats

A few weeks back, the Associated Press reported about the havoc wrecked on our environment due to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The piece brought attention to the fact that the United States is bleeding conservation lands in favor of a more lucrative crop — corn — to meet the needs of the ethanol mandate.

As conservation lands disappear, animal habitats vanish with them. According to another AP article on the problem, since its creation in 1985, the Conservation Reserve Program has boosted populations of ducks, ring-necked pheasants, prairie chickens, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife by providing areas where they can feed and reproduce.

Since the ethanol mandate went into effect, in 2005, the Corn Belt states alone have lost 2.8 million acres from the conservation reserve program. Over the same period, pheasant harvests in those six states dropped by 44 percent, a reflection of the downward population trend, according to data collected from state biologists.

"If you're in a corn-bean rotation, you're doing little to no good for wildlife," Josh Divan, a northwestern Iowa wildlife biologist for Pheasants Forever, told AP.

The New York Times also recently reported that increased corn production has contributed to the loss of habitat for insects, including bees and monarch butterflies.

To the average person, ensuring a home for wildlife and insects may seem like a lesser priority, but the outdoorsmen know that the loss of these habitats has huge consequences for our society.

Dr. Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, explained that a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

The unintended consequences of this failing policy continue to reveal themselves. Diverting food for fuel is no longer an option; tell Congress it is time to take permanent action to reform the RFS.

Midwest Support for RFS Reform

Across the United States (and frankly, the world), people are coming to their senses regarding biofuels mandates. Even in the heart of the Midwest, the Renewable Fuel Standard — the policy diverting 40 percent of our corn crops to ethanol — has its thoughtful critics.

In recent weeks and months, editorial boards across the Corn Belt have been taking a stance against the failing policy.

In Chicago, the Tribune explains that the politics of biofuels have promoted “corn over commonsense” and calls for an end to the RFS all together:

“The solution to this perverse state of affairs is simple: Congress needs to eliminate the renewable fuel standard. It needs to cut back, rather than expand, the out-of-control crop insurance program.”

Mount Pleasant, Michigan, newspaper The Morning Sun comes at it from a different angle: food prices.

“Diverting corn to ethanol raises prices in several ways. It raises the price of corn itself paid by consumers. And because corn is used as a feed, it raises the cost of beef, chicken and other meats. Farmland is shifted to more corn production, reducing acreage for other crops or farm animals, driving up prices.”

And finally, the Quad City Times in Davenport, Iowa, supported the recent decrease to the required 2014 ethanol levels by the EPA:

“Americans’ fueling habits and preferences are changing. Consumption is decreasing. Maintaining or increasing the renewable fuel standard certainly will protect one sector of Iowa agriculture. But the EPA’s recommendation isn’t aimed at protecting Iowa ethanol producers. It is intended to keep fuel prices low and encourage a broader base of more efficient ethanol alternatives to further diversify American’s energy sources.”

The list of newspapers speaking out against the RFS goes on because this failing policy affects everyone. While the 2014 reduction is a step in the right direction, the Washington Post (and others) will tell you it is not enough. Americans deserve true reform, which can only come from Congress, to ensure stability in the food and fuel marketplace.

Tell your Congressman that we need a long-term solution!

Food for Thought: Holiday Dinner Costs Continue to Rise

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with friends and family. For many, the holiday also evokes images of football, cornucopias, pilgrims and a table filled with traditional food, including pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and roasted turkey with stuffing.

In fact, nearly 88 percent of American families are expected to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. But the economics of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for extended family can be challenging. This year, as many food prices continue to rise, some might want to pass their wallets along with the peas and carrots. 

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s survey, turkey dinner and all the fixings for 10 people will cost $49.04, or about 33 percent more than it did when the ethanol mandate was first passed in 2005.

While this year’s total cost is 44 cents less than last year, circumstances have changed. Those traditional big birds that will feed Grandma, Uncle John and all 64 cousins will be much harder to find.

Just since 2012, Butterball, which produces about 20 percent of the nation’s turkeys, has cut its production of 16-pound turkeys (or larger) by 50 percent. Why? The higher price of corn, due in part to the government’s corn ethanol mandate, needed to feed turkeys has raised costs for turkey farmers to their highest level in years. Because of this, turkeys are not consuming as much feed as they have in previous years and are becoming smaller in size.

This is the result of an energy policy that diverts more than 40 percent of our corn crop away from food and animal feed in order to meet the current Renewable Fuel Standard.

Prioritizing fuel over food has real impacts on global hunger, the prices we pay at the pump and our environment.

The below infographic details the widespread impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard on the food spectrum and Thanksgiving dinner in particular.  If you believe there is a smarter way forward, tell your family and friends about ethanol’s negative impact on your Thanksgiving dinner and demand a permanent change from your Congressman.

EPA Reduces 2014 Mandate for the First Time

On Friday, November 15, the EPA announced a reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard, the first time this has happened since the policy began eight years ago. The proposed Renewable Fuel Standard will require refiners to blend about 15.21 billion gallons of biofuels into gasoline next year.

This year’s adjustments will prevent the oil industry from hitting the “blend wall,” the point at which refiners would be required to blend in more renewable fuel with gasoline than is possible given current fuel demand.

Next year, the mandate will not only be lower than the original 2014 level, but also the 2013 level. The agency is taking comment on a range of 15 to 15.52 billion gallons in its proposal, based upon fluctuation within the advanced and cellulosic biofuels numbers.

We applaud EPA’s recognition of this policy’s problems and its decision to lower the mandate for 2014. However, this policy needs a long-term solution, not a short-term fix. America’s consumers, ranchers and small business owners need a permanent solution for the RFS from Congress, not annual changes to a misguided policy.

Tell the President we need more than a band-aid. 

Read what other organizations had to say about the reduced mandate:

Biofuels Mandates Ravage the Land

The Renewable Fuel Standard failed.

Corn-belt proponents of the eight-year-old ethanol mandate promised that ethanol would be a boon for the environment, but this week, the Associated Press exposed the environmental realities of the policy.

Earlier this year, the Renewable Fuels Association — the ethanol lobby — admitted that the policy was intended to raise the price of corn. That may just be the one thing the policy was successful at.  While corn prices are down for the year, prices are significantly higher than they were pre-policy. So much so that farmers began grabbing whatever land was available (including at least one cemetery) to take advantage of a government-backed crop with mandated demand.

In 2005, before the policy was enacted, 11.4 million acres of corn were grown in the United States. Today, that number has swelled to 27.5 million acres.

Using government satellite data — the best tool available — the AP identified a conservative estimate of 1.2 million acres of grassland in Nebraska and the Dakotas alone that have been converted to fields of corn and soybeans since 2006. Across the country, that number is much higher.

“Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama’s watch.” Two million more acres were lost in President Bush’s last two years.

Further, there is no proof that using corn ethanol is actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions, once you consider the full lifecycle. In fact, research suggests quite the opposite. While the inferior fuel may burn cleaner from your car’s engine, getting to that point isn’t actually worth the effort.

“Plowing over conservation land releases so much greenhouse gas that it takes 48 years before new plants can break even and start reducing carbon dioxide. For an ethanol policy to work, the study said, farmers could not plow into conservation land.”

So beyond just raising food prices and damaging engines, ethanol has failed to deliver on its foundational promise: “saving” the environment. Congressmen from both sides of the aisle have come together, urging EPA to reform the mandate. If yours isn’t one of them, contact him or her today and demand change.