Noon: Why waste food to make bad gas?
The Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS — also known as the ethanol mandate — was passed by Congress in 2005 and expanded in 2007. Regardless of market conditions, it required ever-increasing quantities of biofuel be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply — though the Environmental Protection Agency does have the flexibility to make some adjustments based on conditions, such as availability and infrastructure.
Since the law was passed, due to increased fuel efficiency and a generally sluggish economy, we’ve been using less gasoline, not more. Requiring more ethanol in less gasoline is not what the original law intended.
It was believed that the RFS would help achieve energy independence and reduce carbon dioxide emissions — both ideas from a different era.
Since the RFS became law, numerous studies have been done to determine the environmental benefit of ethanol over gasoline — many of which conclude that ethanol is actually more detrimental than gasoline.
Ethanol has an unlikely collection of opponents. Addressing ads put out by the ethanol lobby positing that only “big oil” wants to end the ethanol mandate, FactCheck.org disputes the claim: “Several environmental groups oppose it as well. So does a wide coalition that includes restaurant owners concerned about upward pressure on food prices and boat manufacturers upset at the problems that ethanol can cause in marine engines.”
Despite the controversy, the EPA claims the RFS is a “success.” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, says: it “has driven biofuel production and use in the U.S. to levels higher than any other nation. This administration is committed to keeping the RFS program on track, spurring continued growth in biofuel production and use, and achieving the climate and energy independence benefits that Congress envisioned from this program.”
With this in mind, it is no surprise that the biofuel industry—which wouldn’t exist without the ethanol mandate — was unhappy when, on May 18, the EPA released its biofuel blending requirements for 2017. Using its ability to make adjustments, the EPA announcement was less than the law required, but more than the market demands. The Wall Street Journal states; “EPA officials said they were seeking to strike a balance between Congress’s goal of using more ethanol and the realities of the current fuel market and infrastructure.” Instead, no one was happy.
Frank Macchiarola, downstream director at the American Petroleum Institute, is calling on Congress to “repeal or significantly reform the RFS.” He asserts: “Members on both sides of the aisle agree this program is a failure, and we are stepping up our call for Congress to act.”
Proving Macchiarola’s point, before the 2017 requirements were released, on May 10, six U.S. Representatives — three Republicans and three Democrats—introduced bipartisan RFS reform legislation. The Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act, H.R. 5180, limits the RFS mandate to levels that our nation’s cars, trucks, boats and other small engines can safely accommodate. The bill “directs EPA to consider current market realities and cap the maximum volume of ethanol blended into the transportation fuel supply at 9.7 percent of projected gasoline demand.” Following the May 18 news, the bill’s cosponsors issued a statement calling the RFS “unsustainable.”
It is time to allow the free market — not Congress, not unelected bureaucrats, not mandates, not artificially spurred growth — to determine our fuel choices. Because ethanol is an effective octane-boosting additive, it will always have market demand. Farmers who’ve invested in it will not be driven out of business. The Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act, while not repealing the RFS outright (which would be tough to pass), offers a reasonable fix to well-intended, but flawed legislation.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy. She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy — which expands on the content of her weekly column.