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Posted December 31, 2014
So long, 2014. From an energy standpoint, you’ll be missed. Let’s count the ways:
Surging domestic oil and natural gas production – largely thanks to safe hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – is driving an American energy revolution that’s creating jobs here at home and greater security for the United States in the world.
It’s a revolution with macro-economic and geopolitical impacts, for sure. But it’s also a revolution that’s benefit virtually every American.
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 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 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 September 12, 2014
One of the oft-repeated claims of ethanol producers is that higher-ethanol blend fuels like E15 are better for air quality than the E10 gasoline that’s the staple of the U.S. fuel supply. Short response: No. And while we’ve addressed the ethanol/air quality claim recently here and here, spurious assertions often have more lives than Lulu, my daughter’s cat. So let’s look at the facts and credible research again.
We’ll underscore “facts and credible research,” because an advocacy group is promoting a study on ethanol, air quality and potential cancer risks that isn’t an original study at all. Rather, it’s an overly simplistic exercise in data aggregation that ignores the confounding effects of different test procedures, laboratories and fuel properties. In other words, it’s a crummy analysis that would send real scientists running in the other way.
Posted September 11, 2014
Mixing politics and energy makes for bad energy policy. Exhibit A: the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
We’ve posted a couple of times (here and here) on EPA’s failure to be on time with its annual requirements for ethanol use, which is critical for refiners to comply with the law. If you missed it, the 2014 requirements were due Nov. 30, 2013, nine months ago. That’s a broken program. Now politics may enter in where it shouldn’t.
Posted August 27, 2014
There was an interesting article last year from Ian Boyd, a chief scientific adviser in the government of the United Kingdom. In it Boyd looks at the role that science plays in public policy, including this clarification and warning:
Strictly speaking, the role of science should be to provide information to those having to make decisions, including the public, and to ensure that the uncertainties around that information are made clear. When scientists start to stray into providing views about whether decisions based upon the evidence are right or wrong they risk being politicised.
This comes to mind with a recent Huffington Post article lauding a proposal that would require Chicago service stations to offer E15 fuel, authored by Michael Wang and Jennifer Dunn, scientists with the Argonne National Laboratory.
Wang and Dunn write that mandating E15 – containing 50 percent more ethanol than the E10 gasoline that’s the staple of the U.S. fuel supply – is a “step in the right direction,” because of its environmental benefits. Actually, the Chicago ethanol mandate would be a giant leap backward for consumers, small business owners and, yes, the environment.