The Real Reason We Have Ethanol In Our Gas

The Real Reason We Have Ethanol In Our Gas

To get enough votes to pass the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, Democrats led by Henry Waxman made a deal with the corn lobby.  In exchange for its support, Congressman Waxman committed to an oxygenate provision—essentially a mandate to blend corn derived ethanol into gasoline.

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As a way of disguising this requirement, Congress wrote the oxygenate provision in a way that made it part of a formula for gasoline—government gas.  Section 211 (k) of the Clean Air Act spells out in detail specific component levels for gasoline.  Just think, lawmakers acting like chemists, telling refiners how to make gasoline.

Prior to the passage of the 1990 Amendments, it was clear that initiatives to improve air quality would mean that tailpipe emissions would become more stringent.  In anticipation, the oil and auto industries undertook the most extensive fuel-engine research program ever conducted.  The objective was to determine the most cost-effective ways to meet lower emission standards and to provide research based data that could be used by government.

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Since the mandate went into effect, almost 26 years ago, its cost has been about $200 billion or more.

The two industries briefed Congress on the research and made one primary request:  set emission standards to achieve Clean Air Act objectives but give the two industries the freedom to determine how best to achieve them.  That request was rejected because of a deal with the corn lobby.

Ever since then, motorists have been stuck with higher fuel costs and lower mileage, and consumers have been stuck with higher food prices. Corn production has continued to increase and Congress expanded the mandate to include specific volumes.  The cost of the ethanol mandate has been documented extensively as has the lack of real environmental benefits. In 2015, the Manhattan Institute published a report—The Hidden Corn Ethanol Tax—that concluded that in 2013 the mandate cost consumers $10.6 billion. Since the mandate went into effect, almost 26 years ago, its cost has been about $200 billion or more.

President-elect Trump has pledged to “drain the swamp.”  The ethanol mandate is a good place to start because it may be the most visible and lasting example of how crony capitalists create Baptist and Bootlegger schemes to enrich themselves with taxpayer dollars.

Ethanol manufacturers have perfected championing the environment with corn farmer support for both to get richer.  Bringing the ethanol mandate to an end would send a clear signal that campaign promises to take on crony capitalists was more than just rhetoric.  Changing the Washington culture has to break the link between special interests, lobbyists, lawyers, the alliance between Bootleggers and Baptists.

Republished from Economics 21.

William O'Keefe

William O’Keefe

William O’Keefe is Chief Operating Officer of the George C. Marshall Institute; he was previously Treasurer/Secretary of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and COO of the American Petroleum Institute.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.


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  1. Really, I think you could get 100 year old whisky to run in an internal combustion engine. But drinking it would be the better option.

  2. The shelf life issue is overblown.

    Automobiles go through their fuel so quickly it never comes up.

    For seasonal small motors and equipment, it’s standard to use up the fuel or drain it for winter storage anyway.

    I would love to shift to 100% alcohol fuel and to engines that are optimized for alcohol rather than merely alcohol compatible, but flex fuel is a much more practical compromise and transition.

  3. Ethanol might be a good fuel when used at 100% ethanol. Mr. Ford used it in his model T. Mixing it with gasoline is a bad idea however.

    Shelf life of 100% ethanol is: unlimited.
    Shelf life of ten percent ethanol mixed gasoline is: only 3 months.
    Shelf life of gasoline is: 2 years.

    Mixing gasoline with ethanol is a bad idea. Ethanol when mixed at 10% in gasoline has a reactivity which causes the vapor pressure to increases by one point results in higher VOC and results in increased ozone. Reactivity from the mix of ethanol and gasoline also results in the ethanol turning the sulfur normally found in gasoline into sulfuric acid. When water gets into E10 fuel it causes it to separate. The water and ethanol combines and drops to the bottom of the tank causing corrosion damage to the tank. I have seen this water ethanol mix after separation from 6 month old E10 and it is not like the original ethanol, it is milky and feels a little waxy. It appears to have changed chemically and combined with some of the gasoline it was mix with.

  4. California AB 32 Pavley GMO Corn Mandate Stinks.

    Trump-Clinton DuPont-ADM-Shell-BP Waiver may lower Ground Ozone, CO2 and NOx to fund Road repairs for FREE.

  5. Erocker knows that what he has posted is misleadingly out of context or outright false, because I have shown him those facts, but he insists on continuing to deliberately post untruths anyway. The facts follow:

    Ethanol is better for the environment than gasoline.

    Ethanol emits no smoke, soot, or particulate matter, the source of black roadside snow.
    Ethanol emits no sulfur, the cause of acid rain.
    Ethanol emits less NOx and in vapor form is less than a tenth as reactive to NOx, resulting in far less smog and far less lung-scarring ground-level ozone.
    Ethanol emits less CO2, and since it is a renewable biofuel, the CO2 it emits is from the current biosphere and carbon cycle rather than digging/drilling NEW carbon up from underground and dumping it into the climate system.
    Ethanol can help encourage poor tropical farmers to use efficient modern agriculture instead of inefficient slash-and-burn subsistence farming.
    Ethanol does NOT take as much or more energy to make than it yields; such claims rely on thoroughly debunked junk-science refuted in the refereed literature over gross distortions like using Third World or decades-outdated statistics; ignoring an ethanol byproduct’s use as animal feed that would have to have been grown anyway, and wrongly assuming that ethanol corn needs to be irrigated.

    Ethanol is a better deal than gasoline.

    Ethanol has higher octane than even premium gasoline, providing better acceleration and responsiveness.
    Ethanol usually costs less per gallon than regular, and after mileage is accounted for, often costs less per mile than premium as well.
    Ethanol keeps our fuel dollars in America and expands the fuel market to build up competition and alternatives, which helps keep prices low compared to a monopoly.

    Ethanol does not hurt food prices.

    Ethanol refining creates a byproduct used as animal feed for meat livestock, feed which is better for the animals than unprocessed corn since they can’t digest the starch that was removed to make fuel anyway.
    Ethanol corn production rose at the same time that food corn production levels rose, and other food production level rose as well. Our ag sector has lots of unused slack capacity and is highly efficient; there is no zero-sum game.
    Ethanol can help alleviate hunger by encouraging poor subsistence farmers to switch to cash crops and earn hard currency to enter modernity; and by undermining the oil cartel’s ability to extract huge sums from poor countries.

  6. Every environment group is against corn ethanol. The EPA needs a new name, it seem out of touch with it’s job of protecting the environment.

    Corn ethanol over stresses the US farm land.
    Corn ethanol leads to Nitrogen fertilizer polluted ground water.
    Corn ethanol leads to pollution from pesticides.
    Corn ethanol causes a larger dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico
    Corn ethanol leads to plowing of grass lands to add corn fields.
    Corn ethanol leads to destruction of forest lands to add corn fields.
    Corn ethanol E10 causes higher Ozone pollution.
    Corn ethanol in some areas is distilled using coal as a heat source.
    Corn ethanol distillers exhaust high levels of CO2 and VOCs pollution.
    Corn ethanol is depleting many Aquifers needlessly.

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