Congressmen Take Action on Ethanol

A bipartisan pair of congressmen are taking on a new battle in the House of Representatives, one that could grab some attention a month out from the Iowa caucuses.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter issued last week, Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) call on fellow congressmen to help block “EPA’s actions to allow 15% ethanol blended with gasoline (E15) to enter the marketplace.”

In the letter, Sullivan and Peters state that last year, EPA “made a premature decision to permit E15 to be used in model year (MY) 2001 and newer vehicles.” However, according to Sullivan and Peters’ letter, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “has weighed in and agrees that mid-level ethanol blends are not ready for primetime.”

Concerns about E15, which relies on a greater proportion of ethanol blended with traditional gasoline, run the gamut from worries about market intervention and “picking winners and losers” on the conservative side, to arguments that ethanol is not a “green” energy source on the liberal side. Both conservative and liberal critics of ethanol believe policies benefiting the ethanol industry constitute a giveaway to big corporate agriculture interests, and that the use of food to generate fuel can promote hunger, especially in corn-dependent Third World nations.

Engine manufacturers in the automotive industry and elsewhere charge that E15 is not sound from an engineering perspective and could cause damage.

Meanwhile, other critics regard EPA’s pushing of E15 as another form of government giveaway to “Big Corn,” with lobbying by the industry being propelled by concerns within the ethanol industry about potential declines in ethanol use going forward. Some critics also charge ethanol policy is overly impacted by political calculations, and in particular the fact that several swing states are known for ethanol production.

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