Savannah Now: Commentary: Let’s admit the ethanol mistake, which hits taxpayers & hurts fu

June 14, 2013

Winston Porter, June 14– The ethanol in our gasoline increases the cost to fill our cars, is heavily subsidized by taxpayers and has considerable environmental drawbacks.

How did we get into this disaster and what can we do about it?

Let’s start with the fact that, in 2005, demand for oil in the U.S. was rising, while domestic oil production seemed to be in permanent decline.

In an attempt to resolve this dilemma, Congress latched on to ethanol and agreed to a Renewable Fuel Standard. This federal mandate requires an increasing amount of biofuel, mostly corn-derived ethanol, to be blended into gasoline and diesel fuel. It was developed under the assumptions that domestic oil production was on an irreversible downward trend, while demand for oil and dependence on foreign fuel were growing rapidly.

These assumptions proved to be almost totally false.

Domestic demand for gasoline peaked in 2007 and has been on a downward trend since the recession. Meanwhile, U.S. oil production has surged, thanks to the shale-oil “fracking” revolution. In fact, our oil production has grown so much we’re on the verge of surpassing Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

Yet Congress hasn’t revised or eliminated the RFS. Whatever justification there had been for the mandate is long gone, but the law remains on the books. And because demand for gasoline has dropped instead of increasing, we’re rapidly approaching the point where ethanol can no longer be safely blended into gasoline.

Thus, we need less, not more ethanol. But, right on cue, the ethanol lobby has convinced the Environmental Protection Agency that the solution is to raise the amount of ethanol allowed in vehicle fuel to 15 percent. But this mixture of ethanol and gasoline, called E15, is simply not a safe option for most vehicles.