August 29 – The 2005 renewable fuel standard, a law that requires gasoline refiners to add ethanol, an alcohol made primarily from corn, to the fuel mixture sold to consumers has been a boon to farmers and the bane of owners of lawn mowers, chain saws, outboard motors and other small engines. It’s almost as if the ethanol, after more than a few weeks in a gas can or weedwhacker, begins to turn into corn pudding, a gummy gelatinous substance that fouls carburetors and, if the machines can be made to run at all, shortens engine life.
Big Corn and Big Oil are now battling over the fate of the law. The oil industry wants the ethanol requirement reduced or repealed altogether. The corn lobby – up to 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop is now used not for food or animal feed but fuel – wants to preserve the mandate, along with the hefty subsidies paid to producers of renewable fuels. We say, leave it, change it or scrap it, but just give consumers a break and make it possible to buy gasoline that doesn’t turn to goo.
Proponents of repeal call the ethanol requirement an expensive boondoggle with little or no environmental benefit, a mandate that drives up the cost of food and fuel. It may even be, as some contend, that it takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than a gallon of gasoline. It certainly takes a lot more water in an age where water is being fought over. The other side sees ethanol from corn as a necessary step toward energy independence, one that reduces pollution by making engines burn cleaner.