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Editorial: Can’t we keep gas from turning to goo?

The 2005 renewable fuel standard, a law that requires gasoline refiners to add ethanol, an alcohol made primarily from corn, to the fuel mixture sold to consumers has been a boon to farmers and the bane of owners of lawn mowers, chain saws, outboard motors and other small engines. It’s almost as if the ethanol, after more than a few weeks in a gas can or weedwhacker, begins to turn into corn pudding, a gummy gelatinous substance that fouls carburetors and, if the machines can be made to run at all, shortens engine life.

Big Corn and Big Oil are now battling over the fate of the law. The oil industry wants the ethanol requirement reduced or repealed altogether. The corn lobby – up to 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop is now used not for food or animal feed but fuel – wants to preserve the mandate, along with the hefty subsidies paid to producers of renewable fuels. We say, leave it, change it or scrap it, but just give consumers a break and make it possible to buy gasoline that doesn’t turn to goo.

Proponents of repeal call the ethanol requirement an expensive boondoggle with little or no environmental benefit, a mandate that drives up the cost of food and fuel. It may even be, as some contend, that it takes more energy to produce a gallon of ethanol than a gallon of gasoline. It certainly takes a lot more water in an age where water is being fought over. The other side sees ethanol from corn as a necessary step toward energy independence, one that reduces pollution by making engines burn cleaner.

Virtually all gasoline, as the labels on pumps warn, contains up to 10 percent ethanol, a limit that the EPA recently raised to 15 percent if the fuel is burned in modern vehicles. Because E15 gasoline, as it’s called, damages or destroys small engines, its use in them is banned. It’s virtually impossible to buy bulk gasoline without ethanol so mechanics and trade organizations like the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute recommend adding gas stabilizers and ethanol treatment additives to gas. They also suggest storing gasoline slated to be used in a small engine for no more than a few weeks. The unused fuel should then be dumped into the tank of a vehicle where it will be diluted and burned in a bigger engine. How much of that gasoline winds up on the ground is anyone’s guess. How much the ethanol mandate costs consumers in expensive fuel system replacements and shortened equipment life is something Congress should determine before voting to retain the ethanol requirement. Equipment owners who want to avoid equipment malfunctions and the need to play musical gas cans can purchase ethanol-free gasoline sold by some power equipment retailers. A quart goes for roughly the price of two gallons of gasoline.

The renewable fuel standard was well-meaning legislation rendered irrelevant by the rapid increase in fuel efficiency standards and vehicle technology. Consumers are burning much less gas while farmers, save during droughts, are producing more ethanol than refiners can safely mix with gasoline. The law has kept mechanics busy, been good for power equipment sales, and spawned whole new industries producing little cans of ethanol-free fuel and $10 containers of gasoline additives to counter the evil effects of demon alcohol.

From our vantage point, far from the endless fields of Midwestern maize, running vehicles on food seems like not just a boondoggle but an environmental dead end. Millions of otherwise fallow acres have been ploughed up and put into corn to meet a government-created demand for a troublesome fuel most people would prefer not to buy.

Legacy Comments8

bought a cub cadet snow blower 2 years ago...3 hours of use and carberator is desrtroyed.....salesman says ethanol...I say if you can put a special tag on a small engine that says make sure you put oil in the crankcase before use why shouldn't you put a tag that says"do not store this engine with ethanol gas in it....burn the tank empty and start with a new tank next season..instead im in 250$ for a new carberator.. a form of plan to it?...mechanics get quick follow up work on a new sale... cub cadet says they stand behind damage if ethanol is 10 or says no fuel damage is screwed

This wasn't on my radar screen, but I couldn't agree more.

Recently my 86 Yamaha Maxim X started running badly and as many on the list server I'm on that own that bike point out "Ethanol causes the majority of our rough running troubles". Multiple people had mentioned a product called Seafoam and I was hesitant but tried it. After running only two tanks of gas with the Seafoam in it the bike smoothed right out. I now use it in my 2002 F 150 that has 269,000 miles on it and it works great. I actually replaced my gas weed whacker with an electric one because the gas goes bad so quickly with ethanol in it.

This experiment has failed. Time to end it. Ethanol clogs up every carburetor ever made. My motorcycle, lawn mower, snowblower all run worse on this stuff. Just ditch it. To hell with farmers in Iowa or Kansas.

Corn is not good for much, it turns out. It's a leading cause of obesity and heart disease in this country because corn and corn products are in so many things - particularly highly refined convenience foods. Corn, like other grains, is high in carbohydrates and causes imflammation in the body - both in humans who consume it directly, and in animals that humans then consume. Remember, the only reason to feed corn to a cow is to take a heifer from 50 pounds to 500 in 6 months. We'd all be better off eating (and feeding) less corn. Put the farmers to work growing something else that's better for us, and save your corn consumption for a few highly prized (non GMO) fresh ears, with butter, in August every year.

Agreed. It was once a promising way to stretch our gasoline supplies and increase the oxygenate of the fuel, but at the moment it seems to have more negatives than positives. Growing corn is very water and fertilizer intensive. Water is in short supply lately in the corn belt and much of the fertilizer runs off into the Mississippi River. The more fertilizer in the river, the bigger the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Corn should return to being just fuels for people and animals.

next time a democrat or a globul warming alarmist tells you they have a great plan.....grab your wallet and Run

One of the three times a year I agree with a monitor editorial. This ethanol idea is nothing more than a welfare program for farmers.

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