Wall Street Journal: The Ethanol Gas-Pump Surcharge

March 12, 2013

March 11- With gas prices above $4 a gallon in many parts of the U.S., consumers have a right to know why. Crude oil prices have fallen by 1% since the end of February even as gas prices are up 12%, according to an analysis by Reuters. So higher oil prices aren't the answer. Blame this one, at least in part, on Washington and ethanol.

This story dates to 2007 when the Bush Administration joined Democratic greens and corn-state Republicans to pass an energy bill mandating renewable fuel standards. The law required a 10% ethanol blend in all gasoline and established annual mandates for how much ethanol the oil and gas industry must purchase each year through 2022.

This year refiners and importers are required to blend 13.8 billion gallons of ethanol into the nation's gasoline, rising to 14.4 billion next year. The EPA allocates a share of this mandate to oil and gas companies, and to monitor compliance each gallon of ethanol is assigned a 38 digit Renewable Identification Number, or RIN.

The problem is that Washington's seers were wildly wrong about how much gas Americans would keep putting in their tanks. In 2007 annual gasoline consumption was about 140 billion gallons per year, with forecasts of rising demand. But the 2008-09 recession and better fuel economy have lowered consumption to an estimated 135 billion gallons.