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A Coalition Against Bad Policy

We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again… the ethanol mandate is everyone’s problem.

Oil refiners do oppose the ethanol mandate (primarily because of the looming blend wall), but they are hardly the only ones who take issue with the policy. Environmentalists, taxpayers, food producers, consumer protection groups of all types, anti-hunger advocates and even farmers have all spoken out against the RFS.

This year alone, our coalition has joined arms with even more poultry farmers who are struggling to feed their flocks due to the skyrocketing price of feed; gasoline retailers forced to stock a fuel that consumers neither know about nor want; and outdoor equipment groups grappling to find fuel that won’t damage their small engines.

On Thursday, April 10, Congressman Pete Welch (D-VT), Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, Rob Green of the National Council of Chain Restaurants and others will discuss how the ethanol mandate is impacting all Americans in an event hosted by The Hill Magazine in Washington, DC. You can watch the event on The Hill’s website or join the conversation on Twitter using #TheHillLive and #RFS2014.

The price you pay

NBC Nightly News shone a light this week on rising food prices that are impacting consumers across the United States.

While Brian Williams and the gang focused on the drought in California, it is important to note that these recent price increases are part of a longer-term trend.  Beef, poultry, milk and cheese prices have all been on the rise for nearly a decade—in fact, food prices are up 17.8 percent.

With the introduction of the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2005, the demand for ethanol increased making it more and more difficult for ranchers to feed their herds. By increasing the competition for and price of corn, the ethanol mandate has unintentionally been driving up the cost at the grocery store. By 2022, the RFS will increase food costs for Americans by $3 billion—annually—according to the Congressional Research Service.

And now the drought, which has been affecting various parts of the country since 2012, is making what is already bad, worse.

We can’t change the weather, but we can make changes to this failing policy. Tell Congress it’s time for a real solution.

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.

CBS Philadelphia: Check The Gas You Put Into Leaf/Snow Blowers


Jim Donovan, October 24 - Options at the gas pump are expanding and while you’re probably careful about what you put in your vehicle’s gas tank you’ll want to watch what you’re filling up leaf blowers and eventually snow blowers with too.

By now, many have put away the lawn mower, moved on to the leaf blower, and may soon tune up the snow blower. No matter which tool you’re powering up, be aware of more options at the gas station, as more ethanol gets pumped into the mix.

“The key to remember is the fuels marketplace is changing.  We are no longer in a static situation and so, pumps may look different, gas stations may look different; they may not be the same,” says Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which urges consumers to take a second look before fueling small machines that may not be designed for new fuel blends.  According to Kiser, “The problem is the hundreds of millions of engine units, engine products in use today are all designed built and warranted to run on fuel containing no more than 10 percent of ethanol and so that’s the challenge.”

Anything higher than the e-10 fuel safe for all cars and engines could cause home equipment to overheat, leading to damage and sometimes injury.

On UN Day, Remember Biofuels’ Impact on Global Hunger

While the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a U.S. policy, the RFS and other first-world biofuels policies have global consequences that can mean life or death for hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Today, U.N. Day, is the perfect time to explore how ethanol mandates that divert food into fuel are “a crime against humanity,” as Jean Ziegler, UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food has stated.

North and South America, Africa and Asia have all experienced the consequences of using food for fuel.

In countries like Tanzania, Cameroon and Ghana with land suitable for biofuels, farmers are being driven off of their land in favor of foreign investors’ ambitions.

For example, in Kisarawe, Tanzania, an 8,000 hectare village forest reserve was given to Sun Biofuels by the district government. Villagers were promised jobs and public infrastructure to compensate for the loss of access to water and forested land. However by 2011, the company ceased operations, leaving behind a destroyed ecosystem, workers sickened by pesticides, and broken promises of community development.

Further, for countries where corn is a staple, diverting 40 percent of the crops from the world’s breadbasket – the U.S. — means inescapable increasing prices. Between 2005 and 2011, the cost of tortillas increased by 69 percent and the cost of the basic food basket for a Mexican family more than doubled.

Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed.

According to the New York Times, in Guatemala, a country where most families must spend about two thirds of their income on food, the average person is now hungrier because of biofuel development.

Most recently, Aymane Farid Abu Hadid, minister of agriculture and land reclamation in Egypt said, “The problem of the increase of food prices has been very difficult in Egypt.”

A study by New England Complex Systems Institute said it best: if food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption.

Our ethanol mandate contributes to global hunger every day. Tell Congress to stop using food for fuel.

The Renewable Fuel Standard is Everyone’s Problem

Recently Big Ethanol has been spending a lot of money to sell Americans on the idea that the only people calling for the reform of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) are the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately for them, that’s just not true.

Oil refiners do oppose the ethanol mandate (primarily because of the looming blend wall), but they are hardly the only ones who take issue with the policy. Environmentalists, tax payers, food producers and consumer protection groups of all types, anti-hunger advocates and even farmers have all spoken out against the RFS.

The policy is working against itself—driving up the cost of corn and animal feed while doing nothing for the environment—and costing everyone.

But don’t take our word for it—watch the video above to hear what real people are saying about the RFS.

Now that you've heard from some experts, contact your Congressman to demand change to this failing policy. 

Big Ethanol Admits Biofuel Mandates Inflate Corn Prices

Yesterday, the head of the ethanol lobby Bob Dinneen testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the Renewable Fuel Standard. At the 2:02:06 mark in the video above, you can hear Dineen admit that ethanol mandates were intended to raise the price of corn, costing consumers but lining corn growers' pockets.

This admission comes at a time when a rising chorus of independent voices warn of a coming food crisis, which we detailed last week:

“In recent weeks, two separate researchers– Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute and Timothy Searchinger from Princeton University – have both found a significant link between government-mandated ethanol production and food scarcity.

Meanwhile, current global food trends point to increased difficulties in feeding the world in upcoming years. A new study reveals that there won’t be enough food to feed the world by 2050. Closer to home, the U.S. Agriculture Department estimates that 101 million people – or nearly one in three Americans – are currently receiving food assistance of some kind.”

Do you agree it’s time for Congress to put Americans right to affordable food first? Demand change here.

The Hall of Legislative Curiosities: Part 1 – RIN Credits

Like many grand government ideas, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)—the government’s ethanol mandates program—includes  a number of…perplexing elements. Throughout the year, we’ll be examining a few of these headscratchers through our new video series, The Hall of Legislative Curiosities. 

Our first video tackles the government’s mandate compliance system, based on a trading system of ethanol credits called RINs, or Renewable Identification Numbers. 

RINs represent a gallon of ethanol produced or imported into the United States and blended into the fuel supply. RINs must be purchased by fuel refiners to demonstrate compliance with ethanol mandates to the EPA.  As the mandate for ethanol increases, so too does the amount of RINs required to show compliance. When the law mandates using more ethanol and other biofuel than can safely be blended into the fuel supply, refiners are required to hand in more RINs to meet the mandate than will actually be available.  Refiners who do not have enough RINs are subject to a fine.

As these permits become scarce, their cost skyrockets. Just this week, RIN prices rose to record highs, jumping 12 cents to $1.32 per RIN for grain-based ethanol.

The scarcity and high cost of RINs may force U.S. refiners to reduce domestic supply and could lead to higher consumer fuel costs.

If you find this policy as bizarre as we do, sign our petition here to demand change.

To join the conversation about ethanol mandates online, connect with the Smarter Fuel Future Facebook Page or on Twitter at @SmarterFuels.

Three Ways to get on a Biker’s Bad Side: The Rally Against E15

On June 19th, bikers, classic car owners and other citizens from across the country gathered at the U.S. Capitol to raise awareness of the risks of E15 — a fuel blend containing 15 percent ethanol, and 85 percent regular gasoline — and call for independent testing of the fuel.

Why? It’s simple. Bikers and other gearheads love their rides, and the reckless rollout of E15 fuel put their engines at risk. Here’s what they had to say:

See? There’s no quicker way to get on a biker’s bad side than to mess with their hog. Here’s how the ethanol lobby and the EPA are doing just that:

1. Put a fuel on the road that has never been tested on bikes.

There are currently no independent studies that show E15 is safe in motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle engines. As a result, none of the approximately 22 million motorcycles and ATVs in the United States are actually approved by the EPA for E15 use. Independent testing is needed to demonstrate that E15 is in fact safe for motorcycle engines. Until then, the possibility of engine damage must be taken seriously.

Due to a higher volume of ethanol, E15 has the potential to burn hotter than regular or E10 gasoline, causing possible damage to air-cooled motors and high-performance water-cooled motors used in motorcycles and ATVs. In addition, ethanol in fuel is extremely corrosive. Ethanol absorbs water, which can lead to metal corrosion, as well as dissolving plastics and rubber. As many motorcycles are not specifically designed to be compatible with ethanol, E15 use comes at the risk of engine damage.

2. Force bikers to purchase more fuel than their tanks can carry.

Under a new rule, the EPA requires all drivers to buy a minimum of four gallons of gas from any pump that sells both E15 and other fuel, despite the fact that many bikes cannot carry four gallons. This means that many bikers would have to pay for more fuel than they can use.

This rule exists because many stations carrying E15 dispense it from the same pump as lower ethanol blends like E10. Anyone who fills up with E10 after an E15 buyer could get as much as a quart of residual E15, potentially hurting their engines and voiding warranties.

3. Make filling up their vehicle’s tank as confusing as possible.

Damage to motorcycle engines caused by E15 can be inadvertent. One cause is the use of ethanol blender pumps, which the USDA has proposed installing to meet renewable fuel goals. These fuel blender pumps make it easy for a rider to select E15 on a fuel blender pump while thinking it is E10 or ethanol-free fuel. 

In addition, the average gasoline customer is not well-informed about E15 — 95 percent of consumers have not even heard of E15, according to a recent survey. Combined with the confusion caused by fuel blender pumps, these consumers may damage their cars — and void their vehicle warranties — without even knowing it.  

Take action: Get more information about E15

Are you concerned about the damage E15 might cause your motorcycle, ATV or car? Do you worry that you may inadvertently purchase E15 at the gas station without knowing it? E15 is a product of the increase in ethanol production mandated by Congress through the Renewable Fuel Standard. To learn more, visit our “Take Action” page and join the conversation.

More photos from the rally are available here.

The Missing Piece in President Obama’s Environment Speech

We can’t have a serious conversation about  greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the environment without first addressing the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Today, the president called for “next-generation” biofuels in a speech at Georgetown University. Why? Because not only is the current generation of biofuels failing to deliver promised environmental benefits, it’s actually working against those goals. If the U.S. is to truly “lead the global effort in climate change,” we need to consider the impact of corn ethanol production on land, air and water resources.

To reach the swelling biofuel-blending targets mandated by the RFS, increasing amounts of ethanol — made from corn and other biomass — are being added to America’s gasoline supply. Producing enough biofuel to meet the RFS means more land is being allocated to the production of biofuel feedstock — by 2022, as much as 30-60 million acres will be needed.

This ongoing conversion could materialize in nearly 80 percent of current American farmland being devoted to raising corn for ethanol if RFS mandates are actually met—a transformation of American farms that would result in fewer and more expensive domestic crops.  Meeting the RFS will also require the mass conversion of natural lands — home to various wildlife and fowl — into farmland.

And if detrimental land use conversion isn’t bad enough — the increased production of corn-based ethanol also increases GHG emissions and impacts air quality. Land use conversion to accommodate biofuel is expected to double worldwide GHG emissions over the course of 30 years, according to researchers from Princeton, Georgetown and Iowa State. And according to a 2011 study by the National Research Council, the production and use of biomass ethanol results in a higher release of air pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone and sulfur oxide, compared to petroleum-based fuels.

Furthermore, corn-based ethanol production affects both the supply and quality of water. The process of refining a single gallon of corn-based ethanol requires 170 gallons of water, compared to 5 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline. In addition, corn production can require a heavier use of fertilizers and pesticides, increasing the potential for chemical run-off into the water supply.

There is no silver lining to all of the negative environmental impacts caused by RFS ethanol mandates — higher blends of ethanol in gasoline (like E15 and E85) cannot be used in cars manufactured before 2001, heavy duty vehicles, marine engines and smaller engines like those in lawnmowers and chainsaws. Even newer cars face critical engine damage if fueled with ethanol-blended gasoline, which is why automakers including Chrysler, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Hyundai and several others have said their warranties would not cover new vehicles that have been fueled with E15.

The president’s speech raises an opportunity to address the policies harming our land, air and water resources and make strides to protect the environment; but forging ahead with failed polices like the RFS and biofuel mandates will only set us back.