The Renewable Fuel Standard Needs To Go

By Charles Drevna

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), hyped to the American consumer as the pathway to a cleaner and greener U.S. energy future, has proven to be anything but. As this flawed policy mandates increasing amounts of biofuels into our nation’s gasoline and diesel supply each year, it is dealing a blow to our economy—raising costs for fuel and food, constraining vital American industries, threatening to cause pricey engine damage, and failing in its goal of protecting the environment. These unintended but very real consequences have led to a diverse group of organizations crying foul and subsequently calling for much-needed change to the RFS.

One of the many consequences concerning the policy is engine damage, which independent studies show would result from the use of E15, a gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol. Last year, the EPA approved E15 use in vehicle models built in 2001 and later. But automakers including Chrysler, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota warn that their warranties will not cover newer vehicles (2001 and later) fueled with E15 because of its corrosive nature and potential to harm engines, thus leaving consumers on the hook for costly repair bills

The effects are similar for marine engines, as well.  The U.S. Coast Guard warns that 10 percent ethanol fuel blends can irreparably damage critical engine components. Other small engines like those in motorcycles, lawnmowers and other small equipment  are also susceptible to significant damage from E15, ranging from swelling rubber to explosions
 
Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop in our engines. Consumers are also paying more at the pump AND the grocery store because of the ethanol mandates and expanded biofuels production.

Ethanol contains 33 percent less energy than gasoline, resulting in more frequent trips to the gas station and higher fuel costs for consumers to travel the same distance. According to a FarmEcon study, in 2011, the mileage loss caused by ethanol added approximately $14.5 billion, or 10 cents per gallon, to the cost of U.S. gas consumption.

American families don’t fare any better at the grocery store, either. RFS mandates pit food against fuel production—and food is losing out. In 2012, during the worst drought in 50 years, the RFS diverted more than 40 percent of the U.S. corn supply, the main feedstock of ethanol, into ethanol production. Livestock, poultry and other agricultural producers struggled with spiking corn costs, resulting in a food costs for a family of four increasing by $2,000 a year. 

In addition to threatening consumers’ engines and lightening their wallets, the RFS also puts refiners in a costly predicament as each year they must demonstrate to the EPA that they have blended RFS-designated amounts of ethanol and biodiesel into fuel. Due to lack of consumer demand for fuels like E15 as well as the constraints of the infrastructure needed to transport, store and dispense fuel, it is impossible for refiners to meet RFS targets.

But it’s not just American consumers, automakers, agriculture producers and refiners that have taken serious issue with the RFS. Environmental groups, along with global hunger advocates, continue to stress the negative impacts of using food for fuel. Since its inception in 2005, 23 million acres of grasslands and wetlands have been converted to farmland for ethanol feedstock, rates not seen since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to a National Academy of Sciences study. Couple that with the EPA’s recent findings that corn ethanol actually releases 33 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline.

Internationally, biofuels policies have driven companies to hoard land for ethanol feedstock cultivation, leaving poverty-stricken populations without the means to grow their own food and exacerbating global hunger. Overall, this policy is so harmful that the United Nations recently asked the U.S. to suspend the RFS because it is increasing the cost of critical staple foods around the world, driving the poor deeper into poverty.
 
Taken all together, it is abundantly clear that the growing concern over the RFS is one shared by many diverse constituencies. From its impact on food and fuel prices, to potential engine damage and the detrimental environmental impacts, the RFS is proving costly for U.S. businesses and families. It is time for Congress to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard before even more damage is done to the consumer and the businesses that provide them with essential products.

Charles Drevna is president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

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