By on February 9, 2012

The House Science Committee approved a bill that bars the EPA from approving E15 gasoline without a further study into its effects. The bill passed 19-7 as members voted along party lines. The bill was sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

Automakers and corn growers have clashed over E15, which is made from 15 percent corn-based ethanol biofuel. The EPA allowed its use in 2001 and newer vehicles, but various interest groups, including  Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute protested. In December 2011, Congress ended a 30 year subsidy for corn-based ethanol, that cost taxpayers an estimated $6 billion per year. Brazilian ethanol, which is made from sugarcane, also had its tariff lifted.

Opponents of ethanol noted that 40 percent of America’s corn crop went to ethanol usage, boosting food and animal feed prices unnecessarily by as much as 20 percent. Ethanol blend fuels are said to cause engine problems in vehicles not specially adapted to use them. Brazilian automobiles, for example, are designed to run on heavy blends of ethanol, including E85.

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47 Comments on “House Science Committee Approves Bill Blocking E15...”


  • avatar
    86er

    Isn’t the stored energy potential of sugarcane ethanol many orders of magnitude higher than corn ethanol, which is part of what necessitated the tariff and subsidy?

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Yup.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      If you’re talking about the end product, ethanol is ethanol, there’s little or no difference between the ethanol produced by sugarcane vs the ethanol produced by corn (or algae, etc).

      In terms of the energy inputs, corn ethanol produces approximately 1.3 units of energy per 1 unit of fossil-fuel input. Sugarcane produces approximately 8 units of energy per 1 unit of fossil-fuel input.

      So sayeth wikipedia, anyhow.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel_energy_balance

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    How about a bill blocking reqired e-anything? If you WANT to put corn juice in your car, more power to ya, but I would like a choice in the matter.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      You’re not required to use E-10, though it’s difficult to find ethanol-free gas most places.

      List of ethanol-free stations:
      http://pure-gas.org/

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        Thanks for this link! It looks like our regional chain Gate doesn’t dilute. I’ll be paying them a visit to fill up after work.

      • 0 avatar
        67dodgeman

        If you live in an EPA clean air act non-attainment area, you are required to use E-10 as it is not legal for any filling station in the area (and surrounding counties) to sell regular gas. Thus in any industrialized area you are forced to use E-10.

        I also enjoy how they claim that it’s safe for 2001 and later year models. How exactly do you confine it to those year models when you don’t sell anything else. Out of 4 vehicles in my immediate family, 3 are older than the 2001 cut-off. Didn’t we just discuss the increasing large average age of autos on the road today? Aren’t we nearing the Cuban level of old cars thanks to the economy? The sooner they shit-can the E-10 and get back to real stuff the better.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Maybe not in your state, Maine requires it. You will note that all the locations (4!) listed are airports or marinas. It is illegal to sell non-e10 gas for on-road use, and in most cases it would also be illegal due to tax not being collected on it.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        Ethanol actually has a useful purpose as it helps lower freezing point of gasoline and raises octane similar to what MTBE used to do. MTBE was very toxic to the environment though where ethanol was much safer.

      • 0 avatar
        Number6

        If you’re worried about the freezing point of gasoline, you should give some thought to the glass transition temperature of your tires first…

        There is an app for the iPhone that dings that website too.

        Anybody are to ask Congress why the EPA is dictating energy policy?

        The lack of REAL science, which has caused a lack of any sensible energy policy, has done horrific damage to the USA as a whole..

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Number6, I understand why the EPA has its nose in energy policy. I am more bothered by corn growers dictating energy policy and lobbying to get their product encoded into law.

        I am especially bothered by how the EPA is completely unfit to decree a fuel ‘safe’ for every car made since ’02. Their testing only involved the pollution controls (like the catalytic converter) and not the engine, fuel systems, seals, etc. The ONLY one who has authority to do that is the manufacturer since they are the only one with sufficient technical knowledge of their product.

        I also expect if E15 were to get approval, it would follow the same life-cycle as E10, i.e., become the dominant & ubiquitous fuel. It is a backdoor approach to get every old car off the roads.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Disappointing that this was on a party-line vote. Which means it will never get through the Senate.

    I’m not quite sure why this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue.

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      Because unfortunately everything is now a Republican vs. Democrat issue. If one side takes a stance the other must immediately oppose it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I don’t get the party-line vote either. E15 is great for corn-producing states, but aside from that, I can’t see why anyone supports it.

      • 0 avatar
        YellowDuck

        Well, let me ‘splain to to ya then.

        Even though the net energy production is not great, the “petroleum replacement value” per se is very good. Most (about 2/3) of the energy that goes into making ethanol is used to power the ethanol plant. Ethanol plants run on coal or natural gas, and they produce an energy form that is a direct replacement for LIQUID PETROLEUM.

        Very little gas or diesel goes into making ethanol (including at the farm level to grow the corn). So, the petroleum replacement value of corn ethanol is about 8:1. Essentially, it is about taking energy that is abundantly available domestically (coal) and turning it into a replacement for something that is largely imported (petroleum).

        But, I agree that mandating anything over E10 is insane. There is not enough corn in the whole country to meet E15 across the board.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      My recollection is that the Democrats, being ignorant of actual science on the issue, believe that the Greens supporting them are in favor of ethanol. Increasingly, that is not the case, as it isn’t a very environmentally friendly biofuel. The Republicans used to support it because it helped with the farm vote, but the current climate means they need to oppose any corporate subsidies. The EPA supposedly requires it as a clean air measure.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        What’s fascinating is this committee is made up of 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Yet this is mentioned as a party-line vote of 19-7.

        The words innumerate and politically illiterate come to mind.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        And to be clear, this critique is directed at the Detroit News site, not the readers here. We aren’t paid to explain facts, they apparently are. Journamalism.

      • 0 avatar

        http://science.house.gov/about/membership

        23 Republicans, 17 Democrats, plus a few vacancies. I assume the 19-7 vote was due to abstentions or absences?

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        ….My recollection is that the Democrats, being ignorant of actual science on the issue, believe that the Greens supporting them are in favor of ethanol….

        Most mainstream environmental groups are not supportive of the present ethanol boondoggle because the real well-to-wheel offset of fossil fuels is not there. Ethanol from corn growing is so energy intensive that there is no net fuel savings; in fact most say it is a net loss which is even worse…

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The words innumerate and politically illiterate come to mind.”

        Also, the committee vote was a “voice vote”. In other words, there isn’t a record of who voted yea or nay.

        I don’t know how the paper is a position to report that it was along party lines or not, since we don’t know how anyone voted. However, we can say that there are eight co-sponsors of the House bill, and seven of those are Republicans.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    The Greenies and Cornpec will probably kill this in the Senate. If not, Obama will veto it. He needs the farm swing states in November

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I can understand back in the old days wanting an oxygenate, but with modern engines does ethanol really help the engines burn “cleaner” I know there is slightly less CO2 but aren’t you trading one set of byproducts for another?

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      New vehicle emissions almost certainly do not benefit, but with the average car age exceeding 10 years, the “average” engine’s non-CO2 emissions might be improved by oxygenates. An alternative would be more stringent emissions enforcement (i.e. maintenance) as cars age. A mix of the two approaches (urban vs rural) would probably yield the optimal cost-benefit.

      Does this change mean the fuel makers will go back to MTBE?

      • 0 avatar
        Number6

        A tune up will do more. The EPA agreed, but for some mysterious reason hasn’t done a study since ’96. I wonder why. Never let the facts get in the way of campaign contributions and junk science.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        The EPA does not ‘do’ science. They are a political tool for the party in power. Under Bush, the EPA fought against CA pollution controls. As soon as the administration changed, so did the EPA’s stance. If someone else is elected this year, expect the EPA’s stance on this to change as well.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I read this morning that the price of beef will be going up again. One of the main factors is the price of feed. Please Congress, allow me to continue to afford meat.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know where you live, but there was an interesting article in Grist very recently on squirrels as food. Seems they were common food items until the chicken industry began to take off in maybe the 40s of the last century.

      I’ve not fact checked the article, or anything, but if you can hunt anywhere near where you live, you may have a good supply of free meat.

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        And here’s a quick’n’easy recipe

        http://www.buzzfeed.com/eliot/squirrel-melts

        You’d get more meat if you could hunt K Street lobbyists, but it’d likely be rancid.
        Alright, alright, I’m kidding. Maybe.

  • avatar
    ixim

    Get rid of anything over E-10. Ethanol for motor fuel in the US was a stupid idea from Day 1!

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      I wouldn’t mind Ethanol if it was purely an option, and used in such a way that it could make vehicle-based environmental regs that were both urban And rural friendly. Let the latte-sipping city-slickers tootle around in E100-burning hatchbacks and give us country-folks our proper Diesels back.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    In The Beginning there were 14 areas in the country that the EPA decreed must oxygenate their gas and the EPA decreed MTBF as the legal additive.
    That is until activists, environmentalists, and (what a surprise) Big Corn got a revision from the EPA in 2005 that basically said if MTBF is mixed in fuel The Public MAY file a lawsuit against it’s use. Not banning it, since the Clean Air act of 1990 legalized it. Immediately MTBF was dropped and we saw No Gas signs for the first time in 25 years. The System was not equipped to transport, blend or sell ethanol.
    Ethanol and the price of gas rose accordingly. Add to that the new requirement to go beyond the 14 areas to anyplace they could to sell more E-10 to give the impression we were weaning ourselves off Foreign Oil or any number of reasons which can be spun any number of ways. Areas that didn’t require oxygenated gas before now found themselves forced to use it as a way of burning 38 billion gallons a year by 2020. Which the industry can’t produce. Which can’t be augmented by imports because they would have to pay 54 cents a gallon to protect an industry that can’t make enough which already is protected a lot. Imagine congress passing a law mandating a specific amount of a fuel must be used or else something bad would happen.

    And food got really expensive as well. As did anything else that uses corn or alcohol products.

    Confused? Maybe we would have been better off with real gas that get’s better mileage, doesn’t raise the price of food, won’t require more energy to produce than it generates, and along the way look for engine improvements to make up the slack like they have for 40 years anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      asapuntz

      I believe it’s MTBE, not MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures)?

      Anyway, oxygenates began as a calculated penalty on the fuel economy of newer engines to reduce overall production of non-CO2 pollutants (smog?).

      There could have been alternative programs to encourage the adoption/maintenance of cleaner engines, but oxygenates were probably the most acceptable, politically. After all, people are in a tizzy over a FlexFuel mandate, even though $100/car (if that) seems like cheap insurance against obsolescence in case of an “unexpected” need to Brazil-ify our car fuels. Never mind the protection it affords against “bad” gas.

      • 0 avatar
        Number6

        People are in a tizzy over flex fuel because it’s a loophole to exploit CAFE performance. Not to mention a massive waste of energy.

      • 0 avatar
        GS650G

        I hit the wrong key but MTBF is about right for what ethanol does to older engines. The latest plan to go E20 isn’t a problem unless you drive a car older than 2004. Then your screwed. Even E10 causes problems like clogged fuel filters, damage to rubber orings, and excess water in exhaust gasses. Yes, your pipe rusted out faster because alcohol gives off a lot of water when it burns.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        MTBE was not specifically required. It was in a class of chemicals that were, and since it was very easy for existing refineries to produce, it became the dominant additive. Exxon used a slightly different chemical for their oxygenate.

        Also, all the tests that I’ve seen show that MTBE is not particularly toxic, CA being the exception because everything there is toxic until proven otherwise. MTBE does leak out of everything, spreads like wildfire in the ground, takes forever to break down, and tastes like a chemical soup (making aquifers unusable). But the reason it doesn’t break down is because things don’t eat it, and thus it doesn’t kill them. There’s also lack of evidence that it is particularly harmful to humans (but it certainly isn’t good for us, either).

  • avatar
    jsal56

    Hey Obama Lovers!

    How’s your guy working out?
    I did not like Bush either, his last two months in office paved the way for BO, and Paul is no good either.

    But Obama? He is laughable bad.

  • avatar
    50merc

    You can’t find real gas? Come to Oklahoma, where that’s no problem. Most stations selling non-adulterated gas have huge signs proclaiming “100% gasoline”, “No Ethanol”, “We sell real gas” or the like. Because they know what their customers want, and unlike the EPA, the stations have an interest in serving the public’s interest.

    Oh, and stations selling fake gas are required to post notices to that effect.

    • 0 avatar
      HEATHROI

      Might as well. Looks like I’d travel miles outside Chicago to, at the very least, see if it made a difference.

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      One of the few things about my home-state that truly rocks, Four 100% Gas stations in my home town (out of 8 total stations), one of which (and the cheepest) is a commercial fuel distributor that opens it’s pumps to the public… Don’cha just love the country life?

  • avatar
    shaker

    With the drought in Texas last year actually *preventing* a corn crop and prompting ranchers to sell off herds that they couldn’t feed, I guess that it’s become increasingly apparent that ethanol is a bad use for food.

  • avatar
    Bob

    I did an E85 conversion on my Cavalier. My milage went from 30-35mpg on regular E10 gasoline to 20mpg on E85. Ethanol is terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Well, duh. Ethanol has a much lower energy density than gasoline (just like gasoline has a lower energy density than diesel).

      Most people do homebrew ethanol conversions because E85 has an absurdly high octane equivalent rating and is cheaper than race gas, allowing you to put really idiotic amounts of boost through a forced induction system.

  • avatar
    Bob

    Well according to http://www.change2e85.com the $400 kit only drops your mileage 10% at the most. It was the biggest waste of money. Buy the time I had 2 tanks of E85 through the car my money back guarantee was up.


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