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Don’t be fooled by the EPA’s ethanol dance

It’s crossword puzzle time: Clue: Three words, 21 letters for an unmitigated disaster. Answer: Renewable fuel standard.

We’re praising the EPA for proposing a lower RVO (renewable volumetric obligation) for 2014. It means requiring less ethanol to be blended into our gas supply. But it shouldn’t cause us to take our eye off our real goal, which is the revamping of the Renewable Fuels Standard by Congress.

The EPA held a hearing last Thursday on its proposal to reduce the total gallons of corn ethanol blended into gas next year. Testimony applauding the action was given for boating by the National Marine Manufacturers Association’s John McKnight and Nicole Payla Wood from BoatUS. Meanwhile, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas president Matt Gruhn communicated with the White House asking for the President’s direct support of EPA’s proposal.

In review, the fuel standard mandates increased amounts of ethanol in gas until it reaches 36 billion gallons by 2022. The current required amount is 13 billion gallons, which is total saturation of the gas supply at the existing E10 level. Raising the gallons of ethanol required each year will force fuel to go up to E15 and even higher in the future. It’s unacceptable to virtually everyone . . . unless you’re “one of the corn people making money on it,” McKnight says.

Presumably, McKnight’s reference is to Growth Energy, an ethanol industry lobbying group whose motto might well be “damn the consequences, full speed ahead.” Growth Energy has even launched an advertising campaign entitled "You're No Dummy.” It claims the oil industry is attempting to halt renewable fuels to protect their bottom lines. It’s symbolic of the real battle we’re in to get Congress to revise the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“It’s high time consumers get a reality check from Big Oil's propaganda designed to protect their market share and enable their monopolistic behavior," is the claim. The ads air nationally on cable news like CNN, MSNBC, FOX and RFD-TV.

The simple truth is that while renewable fuels might have a place in our future (perhaps isobutanol, for example), growing corn for fuel instead of food has never made environmental or economic sense. Amazingly, the EPA is finally embracing common sense by proposing a small reduction in the amount of ethanol required next year.

However, we must fail to see that the EPA’s proposal does not banish ethanol. It surely won’t end the powerful push for E15 and higher by the corn people. It will not end the problems boaters and marine mechanics already see daily from E10. It will not halt the big farming corporations from wiping out million of acres of conservation grass lands to cash in with bigger corn crops. It won’t stop the resulting increase in fertilizer runoff that’s feeding the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, adding to the algae problems in Lake Erie or fouling waterways around the nation.

So the EPA move is not a game changer . . . it’s not a win for boating. The only true win can be when Congress stops using the power of government to mandate a windfall for ethanol interests by creating an artificial demand that’s clearly not wanted or driven by the marketplace.

Our industry objective is that Congress must eliminate ethanol from the broken Renewable Fuel Standard. It’s a mandate that’s even hurting progress on other possible biofuels. We’re in a fight and we must continue to be engaged.

The EPA must now post its proposal in the Federal Register for a 60-day public comment period. When it appears, all of us in the marine industry should make a comment supporting the EPA proposal and also call for congressional action to end the ethanol debacle once and for all.


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