Energy Tomorrow Blog
Posted December 22, 2014
A new peer-reviewed study of transportation fueling options generated a pretty good buzz last week, basically for the finding that electric vehicles might not be as good for the environment as previously thought. Another of the study’s conclusions also is worth underscoring: the negative environmental impacts of corn ethanol in fuels.
A team of University of Minnesota researchers assessed life-cycle air quality impacts of 10 alternatives to conventional gasoline vehicles. On corn ethanol:
We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline.
Posted December 16, 2014
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his allies on the city council deserve credit for putting a stop – for now at least – to an ill-conceived proposal that would mandate the sale of higher ethanol blend E15 fuel at city service stations.
We say ill-conceived because, as argued here and here earlier this year, the E15 requirement could be full of risk for consumers and small business owners – while mainly benefiting ethanol producers. Recently, AAA urged Chicago lawmakers to vote against the ordinance.
Posted December 12, 2014
Posted December 8, 2014
Chicago Tribune Editorial: Last summer the Chicago City Council briefly considered an ordinance that would require gas stations in the city to sell a blend of fuel called E15, which has the potential to damage your car engine.
An E15 mandate is a patently bad idea. Changing pumps to sell a fuel blend of 15 percent ethanol — what you buy now has 10 percent — would be a big expense for gas stations. And E15 isn't safe for use in many older engines, from cars to trucks to boats to lawn mowers.
The idea seemed to die last summer. You might think the aldermen decided to put their constituents before the ethanol industry lobbyists who are pushing this fuel mandate. If you did, chalk that up to a triumph of hope over experience. This is, after all, the Chicago City Council.
Posted November 24, 2014
For months we’ve been pointing out the brokenness of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the federal law requiring ever-increasing use of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply.
We’ve written about the impending “blend wall,” the point where the RFS would require blending more ethanol into gasoline than could be safely used as E10, potentially putting motorists at risk for damage to vehicles while also potentially risking small-engine equipment and marine engines. We’ve written about RFS-mandated use of “phantom” liquid cellulosic biofuels – a fuel that hasn’t been commercially available despite the recent inclusion by EPA of landfill bio gas in that category (more about that in a future post). And we’ve written about how the 2014 requirements for ethanol use were months and months late from EPA, caught up in election-year politics.
The RFS is indeed broken. Late last week EPA basically agreed, announcing it’s waving the white flag on trying to issue ethanol-use requirements for 2014, which has just a little over one month to go. Instead, the agency said it will complete the 2014 targets in 2015 “prior to or in conjunction with action on the 2015 standards rule.”
Posted November 17, 2014
Saw a tweet last week from Jalopnik, a website “obsessed with the cult of cars and everything that moves you,” and it reminded me of an important point in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) debate.
First, Jalopnik doesn’t actually do a car-of-the-year award because it considers them to be so much media hype. The tweet was a little jab at car awards. Still, Matt Hardigree, the site’s editor-in-chief, says the ’94 Miata really is a great, classic car.
Which leads to our point about the RFS: If you’re a lucky owner of a vintage Miata, don’t let E15 anywhere near its fuel tank.
Posted November 5, 2014
A couple of quick observations on issues related to the flawed Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
First, the ethanol use requirements for 2014 now are 11 months late. The requirements from EPA were supposed to be issued by Nov. 30 of last year, so that refiners could plan this year’s operations to comply with the RFS’ ethanol mandates. Instead, they’ve been forced to try to divine what EPA might require. Now, with roughly 330 of the year’s 365 days passed, the guessing game turned absurd long ago.
Posted November 3, 2014
Sometimes the public policy debate occurs at an academic level, and it’s easy to overlook the impact on real Americans. A good example is the campaign to push higher ethanol-blend fuels into the marketplace, which could negatively affect millions of consumers and hinder the broader economy. True enough, but we should also look at the real-world impacts of forcing increasing levels of ethanol into the fuel supply, impacts on individual Americans like Russell Garcia in Chicago.
Garcia owns five independent service stations in Chicago. He recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune to point out the consequences of a city council proposal to require Chicago gas stations to carry E15 gasoline – fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol, 50 percent more ethanol than the E10 gasoline that’s prevalent across the country.
Garcia wrote that E15 won’t deliver benefits promised by proponents, such as cost savings and environmental improvements. Instead, he wrote, it would impact consumers and small business owners like himself and ultimately be worse for the environment.
Posted October 20, 2014
The Obama administration is trying to balance its support for renewable fuels with awareness of infrastructure constraints at gas stations as it finalizes targets for 2014 biofuel use, agency officials said on Tuesday. But with only 11 weeks left in the year, the administration also needs to weigh oil refiners' ability to comply with the long-delayed requirements, one official told the Reuters Global Climate Change Summit.
The article goes on to quote Janet McCabe, who leads EPA’s division overseeing the biofuels program:
(McCabe) acknowledged that delays in setting the targets, formally called the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), should be taken into account. "We need to be mindful of where we are in the year," McCabe said …
Reuters reports that EPA had proposed lowering ethanol mandates for 2014 because the U.S. was on a collision course with the 10 percent blend wall – the point where RFS mandates will require ethanol to be blended into gasoline at levels higher than the 10 percent fuel (E10) for which most of today’s vehicles were designed.
Posted October 8, 2014
Others are picking up on how late EPA is in setting this year’s ethanol use requirements – as well as how political calculations appear to be affecting the administration’s management of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Politico (subscription required) has this:
The Obama administration is nearly a year late in setting its 2014 biofuels mandate, but both ethanol supporters and critics say with politics at play, the White House may delay its decision until after the midterm elections.
Several sources following the issue closely say that the White House hoped that boosting the overall volumes would be enough to act as a boon to (Democrat Bruce Braley in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race). But renewable fuels advocates in the state aren’t happy with that compromise, so anything short of a clear victory for ethanol makers could hurt Braley’s campaign. … “If they increase the number, but it’s still tied to the (ethanol) blend wall, in our view, they will have killed the program, and that will be seen as a huge loss for Braley, and they’ll wait until after the election,” said one person in the biofuels industry. “If it’s good for Braley, it’ll be before the election. If it’s bad for Braley, it’ll be a punt. And people will see the punt.”
Indeed they will. They can’t help but see energy policy being contorted to serve political ends. It’s no way to conduct energy policy, and it’s no way to treat Americans who ultimately could be impacted by decisions (or the lack thereof) under the RFS.