I read your May 22 editorial on ethanol. While I understand your perspective on the costs associated with meeting the renewable fuels standard, I believe you have completely missed the benefit side of the cost-benefit calculation. Ethanol has brought many benefits to the nation – and rural America in particular.
Initially, the rise in grain prices was, of course, the crux of the matter. Corn growers started the movement in the 1980s to add value to mountains of surplus corn. Many American ethanol plants are still independent producers owned by hundreds of farmers and businessmen who have invested millions of dollars to build them. Most communities have seen these investments returned repeatedly, not to mention the increase in well-paying jobs.
It would seem obvious that it would be desirable to replace up to 30 percent or more of the country’s transportation fuel needs with a plant-based, renewable, locally produced and environmentally beneficial product. The fact that it reduces dependence on carbon-intensive petroleum products is another compelling reason to use ethanol. Nine of the 10 cars, trucks and SUVs on the road today are approved by their manufacturer for use on E15. There is no evidence that ethanol harms vehicles.
The oil industry doesn’t really want ethanol to go away, but it doesn’t want to give up more market share. It needs low cost oxygen because refineries have been reorganized to operate more profitably by producing low octane base gasoline. If they are not using ethanol, they must use an oxygenate bound to benzene to increase the octane. If you want an eye-opener, research the toxicity of benzene.
If refiners want to mitigate the cost of compliance, they would have to blend more ethanol, it is certainly available and is cheaper and better than the alternatives.