Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts & health tips from EWG. [Privacy]

EPA Approves Wider Use of Destructive Corn Ethanol

Friday, January 21, 2011

Here’s who lost out today (Jan. 21) when the Environmental Protection Agency decided to allow the use of fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol (E15) in any gas-powered car or truck built since 2001:

  • Car owners whose engines and catalytic converters may be damaged even as auto makers void their warranties.
  • Owners of lawnmowers, outboard motors, chain saws, ATVs and a host of other outdoor tools whose engines will break down if they’re fueled with E15.
  • The environment, as this misguided policy encourages all-out corn production and the massive water pollution that results, ultimately reinforcing the devastating “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay.
  • Birds and other wildlife, which will lose habitat as large-scale farmers expand into marginal and highly erodible land.

And who was the winner from EPA’s ill-advised decision? Just one group: the corn ethanol lobby and corn growers, who already profit from taxpayer-funded tax credits and grants for small producers, a tax credit for blending ethanol with gasoline, government mandates to boost ethanol use and tariffs that block imports from offshore sources. So it’s a good day for Big Ag, which wants us to think that trying to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River Basin from torrents of agricultural pollution is government overreach, but forcing more environmentally damaging and heavily subsidized corn ethanol on American consumers is just fine. EPA’s decision grants the industry a partial waiver to the Clean Air Act to allow 50 percent more ethanol to be blended into gasoline for a vastly greater number of vehicles. Unfortunately, the agency chose to disregard the reasoned arguments by the Environmental Working Group and others who have long opposed continued federal handouts, mandates and incentives for corn ethanol production. Here’s why: Production of corn ethanol has devastating environmental consequences. These include water pollution from excess farm chemicals applied to corn fields, clearing of wildlife habitat and plowing of marginal and highly erodible lands to expand grain production. The policy distorts markets and energy policy. Corn ethanol is the only fuel whose use is mandated by the federal government and supported by taxpayers at the same time. In fact, corn ethanol sucks up two-thirds of all federal supports for what the government classifies as “renewable” energy, including those for wind, solar and geothermal. Our huge taxpayer investment in corn ethanol does little to wean America from its addiction to oil. For their $17 billion investment in corn ethanol from 2005-2009, taxpayers were rewarded with a paltry reduction in overall oil consumption equal to an unimpressive 1.1 mile-per-gallon increase in fleet-wide fuel economy. This degree of energy independence could have been accomplished for free with simple, sensible practices such as proper tire inflation, using the right grade of motor oil, driving sensibly and better enforcement of speed limits. Introducing E15 will likely turn out to be a nightmare for American consumers, who are bound to face massive confusion at the pump when they try to figure out which fuel blend is safe for their cars and trucks. Those who make a mistake will be headed for breakdowns on the road. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, filed suit against EPA over the E15 issue since they do not want to be held liable for misfueling problems. Ironically, it was just two days ago that EPA announced a forward-thinking partnership with Chrysler to roll out hybrids with 30-35 percent better fuel efficiency. Today, the agency gave its backing to a fuel that will yield worse gas mileage for two-thirds of all vehicles on America’s highways.