Commentary Magazine


More Ethanol, Less Relief

One of the plans being considered by the Obama administration is to raise the ethanol content of blended gasoline from 10% to 15%. Apparently, this is being done to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, decrease pollution, and stimulate the domestic economy. What’s unclear is precisely how this is supposed to work.

Thus far, ethanol in gasoline has been less than a stellar success. The diversion of corn from food to fuel has driven up the price of corn to a degree that is actually effecting food prices. In other words, during a time of economic crisis, the government has decided to make a staple of the American diet more costly.

Moreover, it hasn’t worked out very well for those producing the ethanol. They’re struggling, if not failing.

Then there’s pollution: it turns out that adding ethanol to gasoline actually makes it burn less cleanly, giving off more pollutants.

And just to add injury to the insult, there is evidence (so far largely anecdotal, but growing) that the ethanol is causing serious damage to car engines that weren’t designed to burn alcohol — especially in cases where the blending is less than precise and cars end up trying to burn fuel that has a much higher percentage of ethanol than 10%.

Finally, there are a lot of gasoline-burning vehicles that are not cars (boats, lawn mowers, off-road 4x4s, and the like) whose warranties specifically exclude damage caused by burning fuel containing more than 10% ethanol. Should the law change, those warranties will suddenly become null and void — leaving the owners (literally, in some cases) up the creek.

On the other hand, increasing the ethanol content in gasoline will have some benefits. For one…um… Well, I’m sure there has to be some advantage.

A plan as profoundly counterproductive as this, with so many downsides, can not be the product of any individual or private business. No, something as fatally flawed as this could only be spawned by the federal government.

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