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The End of Ethanol?

Updated: Apr 13

Does anyone (besides corn farmers) like ethanol in our fuel? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to visit a lawnmower repair shop after prolonged use of gasoline with ethanol in it. Plenty of other people, from boaters to classic car enthusiasts, also detest ethanol in our fuel. So why is it there? You can thank a government mandate, of course. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requires that a set amount of biofuel be blended into gasoline. Since ethanol is the only commercially viable biofuel, that’s what gets used. This federal law was ostensibly put in place to help reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. In reality, all it did was boost the fortunes of a small segment of the farming population. While few things attract bipartisan agreement in Washington, ending the Renewable Fuel Standard is one of them. Earlier this month, Rep. Steve Womack joined with a group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress to introduce a bill that would reform the RFS. Upon introducing the bill, Rep. Womack said, “Not only has the misguided RFS failed to lower prices at the pump, but the artificial market for ethanol it created is having unintended and profound effects on consumers, energy producers, livestock producers, retailers, and our food supply.  Congress must reform the RFS and provide Americans relief.” When I contacted Rep. Womack’s office to ask about how the RFS affects Arkansas, his press secretary Claire Burghoff replied:

Chicken producers, for example, have spent an additional $48 billion to feed their birds since the RFS was enacted.  The total extra feeding cost addition for all protein producers in America now exceeds $200 billion.  This is obviously significant for Arkansas, given Tyson’s presence in the state.  But even more concerning is that these costs trickle down to consumers who buy their products – driving up costs at the grocery store and disproportionately impacting poorer Arkansans, who are already struggling to feed their families.

Besides the bipartisan opposition to the ethanol mandate, there are also a broad coalition of organizations that want to see it modified or ended. For instance, poultry farmers are teaming up with environmentalists on this issue. That type of agreement rarely happens. That’s because pretty much everyone agrees that the RFS has produced some very bad consequences. There’s the massive environmental damage. Let’s not forget how it leads to higher food prices. And don’t bother using it in your classic car. This isn’t the first time that the RFS has come under attack in Congress. In the past, the ethanol lobby has defeated any attempts to remove or modify the mandate. According to Burghoff, this year may see victory for those looking to undo it:

It’s pretty clear the system is broken – only once in the last seven years has the EPA been able to issue RFS guidelines. Industries and consumers alike are begging for a long-term solution, and Congressman Womack believes this momentum, in combination with the growing support from lawmakers in the House and Senate, will push RFS reform over the finish line this Congress.

According to Rep. Womack’s office, he’s also supportive of full repeal of the RFS, too.  Either repeal or reform would be much better than the current federal ethanol mandate. We’ll be watching to see if Rep. Womack’s office is correct that 2015 will be the year that the ethanol lobby gets taken down.

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