GAO: Government Ethanol Rules Actually Increase Gasoline Use
A massive study by the Government Accountability Office into “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” has turned up an interesting finding. It seems that the government’s desire to buy more “alternative fuel vehicles” (AFVs) may actually increase the amount of gasoline used by government fleets. Why? Because agencies largely buy E85 ethanol-powered vehicles to fulfill their AFV requirements, and there aren’t enough E85 pumps to actually fuel the fleet, forcing agencies to obtain waivers to buy regular gasoline. Hit the jump for the report’s full findings on this, the latest unintended consequence of America’s ongoing ethanol-subsidy boondoggle.
The GAO report finds to basic contradictions in the government’s AFV-boosting fleet strategy, to wit:
- Increase the use of alternative fuels vs. the unavailability of alternative fuels.Agencies are required to increase alternative fuel use, although most alternative fuels are not yet widely available. Thus, agencies have been purchasing primarily flex-fueled AFVs, those that can operate on E85—a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and petroleum—or petroleum. However, since E85 was only available at 1 percent of U.S. fueling stations in 2009, agencies are requesting waivers from the requirement to use alternative fuels. According to DOE, in 2010, approximately 55 percent of flex-fueled AFVs received a waiver. Further, some fleet operators indicated they use petroleum without a waiver when alternative fuels are available because it is either more convenient, less expensive, or both.
- Acquire AFVs vs. reduce petroleum consumption. Agencies are required to purchase AFVs, but this requirement may, in some cases, undermine the requirement to reduce petroleum consumption. Virtually every agency has succeeded in acquiring more AFVs, but there have been only modest reductions in petroleum use and modest increases in alternative fuel use, due to the lack of available alternative fuels. As previously stated, the lack of available alternative fuels results in agencies using petroleum to fuel AFVs. In areas where alternative fuels are not available, purchasing more fuel efficient non-AFVs could reduce petroleum consumption more than purchasing AFVs.
Meanwhile, until we hear of specific plans to fix these fundamental issues, expect the waste and non-fulfillment of gasoline use reduction goals to continue, as President Obama recently pledged that every new government fleet vehicle purchase would be an AFV by 2015. E85 is widely considered to be the most common type of government AFV purchase, as they are relatively cheap and more robust for certain government tasks than hybrids and plug-ins. And, as Automotive News [sub] reports, the baseline ain’t great either:
In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the U.S. government increased gasoline use in vehicles 3 percent from the previous year even as he boosted hybrid purchases to about 10 percent of the federal fleet from 1 percent in 2008, according to data from GSA and the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Overall government energy use fell about nine-tenths of 1 percent in 2009, the data showed. Figures for 2010 are scheduled to come out later this year.
And if the government is struggling to actually reduce its gasoline use with E85 vehicles, imagine how the rest of the US is doing. After all,
Vehicles that can run on E85 accounted for 37,590 of the 43,750 alternative-fuel fleet vehicles sold last year, according to the Energy Information Administration
Meanwhile, on the other end of the ethanol subsidy complex, the US Comptroller General used his testimony [ PDF] to identify domestic ethanol subsidies as an “Opportunity to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” saying
Congress supported domestic ethanol production through a $5.4 billion tax credit program in 2010 and through a renewable fuel standard that applies to transportation fuels used in the United States. The ethanol tax credit and the renewable fuel standard can be duplicative in stimulating domestic production and use of ethanol, and can result in substantial loss of revenue to the Treasury. The ethanol tax credit was recently extended at 45 cents per gallon through December 31, 2011. The tax credit will cost $5.7 billion in forgone revenues in 2011. Because the fuel standard allows increasing annual amounts of conventional biofuels through 2015, which ensures a market for a conventional corn starch ethanol industry that is already mature, Congress may wish to consider whether revisions to the ethanol tax credit are needed, such as reducing, modifying, or phasing out the tax credit.
Instead, it seems the government is heading in the opposite direction, sinking yet more money into ethanol infrastructure. AN [sub] reports:
A U.S. Agriculture Department program that started in the last two weeks is pushing for 10,000 pumps in the next five years, he said. The U.S. has about 162,000 fueling stations, according to the association.
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