Iowa Public Television

 

Renewable fuels face forced oxygenate repeal

posted on April 14, 2000


FARM STATE LAWMAKERS ARE DOING ALL THEY CAN TO ENSURE THAT MOTORISTS KEEP USING ETHANOL, THE GASOLINE ADDITIVE MADE FROM CORN. BUT THE FUTURE FOR ETHANOL IS, AT BEST, UNCLEAR.

CONGRESS IS CONSIDERING WHETHER TO REPEAL CLEAN FUEL STANDARDS THAT REQUIRE GASOLINE IN CITIES WITH SMOG PROBLEMS TO HAVE AN OXYGEN-ENHANCING ADDITIVE, LIKE ETHANOL OR MTBE. AND WHILE THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION'S MOVE TO BAN MTBE WOULD SEEM LIKE A BOOST FOR ETHANOL, THERE'S BEEN RUMBLINGS FROM MANY STATES FOR THE REPEAL OF THE OXYGENATE REQUIREMENT SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO SWITCH FROM MTBE TO ETHANOL.

CLEARLY, THE MANEUVERING HAS PLACED ETHANOL AT A CROSSROADS. AND IN THE BALANCE, LIES THE FUTURE COURSE FOR CLEAN AIR, A RELIABLE FUEL SUPPLY, BIG OIL, AND FARMERS.

M-T-B-E, THE CHEAP FUEL ADDITIVE THAT SATISFIES THE E-P-As AIR QUALITY REQUIREMENTS OF ITS OXYGENATED FUELS PROGRAM, WAS RECENTLY FOUND POLLUTING GROUND WATER IN EVERY STATE EXCEPT ALASKA. CALIFORNIA, THE LARGEST USER OF THE PETROLEUM BASED ADDITIVE, DECIDED TO BAN M-T-B-E AND THEN ASKED TO BE TAKEN OFF THE LIST OF STATES THAT NEED POLLUTION REDUCTION THROUGH AN OXYGENATED FUELS PROGRAM.

ETHANOL, THOUGH NOT AS CHEAP OR ABUNDANT AS M-T-B-E, STANDS READY TO BENEFIT. THE DIFFICULTY HAS BECOME HOW TO ENCOURAGE ETHANOL PRODUCERS TO RAMP-UP PRODUCTION.

TOM VILSACK, IOWA GOVERNOR: "The reality is it isn't necessarily exclusively produced form corn. It can be produced from rice, it can be produced form waste-paper products, it can be produced form municipal waste. The opportunities are enormous."

LEGISLATION INTRODUCED LAST YEAR BY SOUTH DAKOTA SENATOR TOM DASCHLE OFFERS SOME INCENTIVES THROUGH THE ADOPTION OF A "NATIONAL FUEL STANDARD." THE BILL WOULD ALLOW FOR A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FLEXIBILITY IN KEEPING THE AIR CLEAN WHILE ENCOURAGING THE USE OF ETHANOL. TO BRING EVEN MORE GOVERNMENT RESOURCES TO BEAR, THE COMMODITY CREDIT CORPORATION IS WORKING ON MAKING $100 MILLION IN GRANTS AVAILABLE TO EXISTING ETHANOL FERMENTORS TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO EXPAND THEIR PLANTS.

IF NO INCENTIVE IS OFFERED AND THE OXYGENATED FUELS PROGRAM IS ELIMINATED, LEGISLATORS FEAR OIL COMPANIES WOULD HAVE NO REASON TO USE ETHANOL IN THEIR FUEL BLENDS. LAWMAKERS CONTEND THE RESULT WOULD BE AN INCREASED DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL, INCREASED AIR POLLUTION, AND A REDUCTION IN THE FARMING COMMUNITY'S BOTTOM LINE.

IT'S IRONIC, EVEN IN THE WAKE OF MTBE's DISMISSAL AS A FUEL ADDITIVE, THAT ETHANOL'S FUTURE IS SO CLOUDY. THE FUEL BLEND LONG HAS BEEN TOUTED AS AN ENHANCEMENT TO CLEAN AIR AND WATER, AS WELL AS AN ECONOMIC BOON TO CORN GROWERS. YET EVEN IN THE HEART OF THE CORN BELT, THERE'S DOUBT. MISSOURI GOVERNOR MEL CARNAHAN HAS REQUESTED THE EPA ALLOW HIS STATE TO WITHDRAW FROM THE REFORMULATED GASOLINE PROGRAM. LIKE IN CALIFORNIA, THE APPEAL IS PART OF MISSOURI'S PLAN TO BAN MTBE. BUT THE ETHANOL INDUSTRY SAYS WITHDRAWING FROM THE FEDERAL PROGRAM NOT ONLY DAMAGES ETHANOL'S CHANCES TO BECOME THE OXYGENATED FUEL OF CHOICE, BUT HARMS THE ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF FARMERS.

Tags: biofuels ethanol news renewable fuels