Editorial: End Washington’s corn addiction

The Detroit News

The idea ethanol is the transportation fuel of the future never seems to fall out of fashion among certain members of Congress—including Michigan’s own Debbie Stabenow. But it’s time for this outdated obsession to end.

Stabenow was among 40 U.S. senators who recently declared their desire to keep the biofuel gravy train going by signing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that urges the agency to step up the government’s commitment to ethanol—the energy-intensive conversion of corn into a fuel blend Congress demands be added to regular gasoline.

This eco-pipedream from the 1970s actually harms the environment and costs the American people billions of dollars per year.

Just 16 years ago, more than 90 percent of corn grown in the United States fed people or livestock, with only 5 percent used for ethanol. Today, only about 60 percent of America’s corn is used to feed livestock and humans, and more than 40 percent is poured into our fuel tanks, replacing increasingly cheap gasoline.

And the 40 senators want even more.

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandated an ever-increasing amount of biofuels be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply. By 2016, we were supposed to be at 24 billion gallons per year. Yet, despite massive government subsidies and financial incentives given to farmers, we are falling short of Congress’ target by 300 million gallons.

That’s what prompted the letter from the senators stating, “We urge (EPA) to continue to support higher (volumes) for biodiesel to encourage additional development and use of this fuel.”

But that’s wholly misguided.

Modern engines have been modified to work with ethanol blends, but such fuel still reduces the overall vehicle performance, attracts destructive moisture to engines and increases wear.

Ethanol also wastes fuel. Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy than pure gasoline, which means vehicles get fewer miles to the gallon the more ethanol is blended into gasoline. The Renewable Fuel Mandate reduces fuel economy and even undermines the government’s CAFE standards. According to a 2012 study, ethanol mandates cause gas prices to rise.

Ethanol mandates hurt the poor by driving up food prices, as food producers compete with refineries for the corn crop. Farmers are incentivized to devote more land for corn to feed machines over men, which causes a spike at the supermarket. Many of the senators who wrote to the EPA claim to be champions of the working class, but those who struggle to make ends meet can’t keep up with climbing food prices.

The Renewable Fuel Mandate is counterproductive and should be ended, not expanded. Congress should stop serving the interests of the agriculture lobby and do away with this wasteful environmentalist pet rock.