A perfect example of an out of control government bureaucracy is the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to fuel ethanol. A tangled web of politics, environmentalism and federal bungling teamed together to create what some now call “Big Ethanol” – similar to “Big Oil,” “Big Pharma” and “Big Banks.” Just as the pharmaceutical companies exert undo influence on the Food and Drug Administration, Big Ethanol seems to be in charge of the EPA bureaucrats when it comes to fuel ethanol.
With no urging from the government, “big oil” started marketing “gasahol” in the early 1970s. It wasn’t an experimental fuel. They knew it would work – engines can be adjusted to run on straight alcohol and refiners found adding a pinch of booze to the gasoline boosted the octane rating of the fuel. But that’s not why they did it.
The specter of OPEC was on the horizon. The environmental movement was beginning to gain popularity. The first “Earth Day” was in 1970. Ethanol was more a marketing ploy than a fuel quality enhancement or alternative.
Then bureaucrats embraced the concept. Instead of letting market forces – such as demand, alternative energy prices and availability – dictate whether or not America’s combustion engines would be fed a diet containing ethanol, eco-whackos, farm-state politicians and EPA bureaucrats pushed a law through congress called the Renewable Fuel Standard, mandating an ever-increasing amount of ethanol be added to gasoline and nearly eliminating the availability of gas with no alcohol added.
Hidden in the mire of all this was the fact ethanol caused plenty of problems in automobile engines, marine engines, go-karts, chainsaws, lawn mowers and others. It’s not a problem that has “gone away,” with time. I was on a boat in September that wouldn’t start. The problem turned out to be the fuel pick-up tube in the gas tank had rotted away due to contact with ethanol. Marine engines, ATV motors, chainsaws and other gasoline powered equipment can survive on E-10 (a 90/10 mix of gasoline/alcohol) but they don’t thrive on it. Tests have proven even a slight boost to 85/15 will be ruinous to older cars and most small engines.
When the bureaucrats enacted the RFS, it was thought to be an innocuous law. When RFS passed it only “required” ethanol production and use to follow the upward trend of increasing fuel use in the U.S.A. The RFS, more than any other government program, created “Big Ethanol.” Without getting into all the local, state and federal subsidies and tax abatements given to ethanol producers, what business couldn’t thrive backed up by a law requiring production to increase annually and a guaranteed market, requiring people purchase your product whether they wanted it or not?
The RFS worked only until it collided with reality. High gas prices along with government mandates demanding new vehicles meet lofty fuel economy standards lowered fuel demand. Instead of an ever increasing need for gasoline/ethanol fuel, consumers stopped driving as much and when they did, it was in more fuel efficient vehicles.
One might think this was a good thing. It was, it is, unless you are a bureaucrat and in bed with Big Ethanol. In bureaucracy-think one fact remained. RFS still demanded more ethanol be produced and used each year.
The cure would be to completely repeal the RFS law. The ethanol manufacturers would soon adjust the supply to the demand. A partial fix would be to simply dial back the production requirements demanded by the RFS.
The RFS law was passed in 2005, a bureaucracy was created and Big Ethanol has donated countless millions to local, state and federal politicians. Despite the RFS being antiquated, counter productive and public resistance to using/wanting fuels with higher ethanol content, the EPA actually increased the RFS for 2018 requiring America’s ethanol producers to brew, and fuel companies to blend in 10 million gallons more gallons of alcohol than last year. Where will it be used?
Watch out for E-15 gasoline. Only motors with computerized fuel injection systems will work with it.
The bureaucrats have pounded another round peg into a square hole. If your boat doesn’t start next summer, check the fuel pick-up tube in the gas tank and blame the EPA.