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Hope ahead for the business of boating

If the opening weekend for the Houston International Boat Show is any indicator, the winter shows are going to see robust business. Meanwhile, there’s speculation that changes coming at the Environmental Protection Agency could have a positive impact on the ethanol debacle that’s hounded America’s boaters for years.

First, the Houston International Boat Show racked up a bigger-than-expected opening weekend with attendance up 21 percent over last year. It’s the second consecutive year that the 10-day show could not open on Saturday because the Houston Texans were playing an NFL Wild Card playoff game in the NRG Stadium that uses the same parking as the boat show in the adjacent NRG Center.

“We hate to give up a Saturday, of course, but the boaters clearly came through on Friday and Sunday to give us a big increase over last year,” show president Ken Lovell said. “The aisles on Sunday were packed all day and early sales reports from key dealers are very good, too.”

Houston runs through next weekend.

Changes at the EPA and with ethanol

There’s little doubt that the Trump administration will soon be making some major changes in the federal agencies. Indeed, some contend Trump’s cabinet picks might not even be people who agree with the mission of the agencies they’ll head up.

One that should be of real interest to boating is Scott Pruitt, who was named to head the Environmental Protection Agency. That agency in recent years has gone beyond its authority in creating rules that could kill coal, attempted to federalize ponds and damaged scores of small engines because of ethanol's affinity for water and solvent properties.

As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt led or was included in a number of lawsuits challenging the EPA’s rules and, in some cases, received favorable rulings in the courts. His no-nonsense style will be a relief and should end eight years of agency overreach. And that brings us to the question of ethanol.

It seems politically unrealistic to think that even with Pruitt at the helm, the EPA will suddenly advocate for the reduction or elimination of ethanol from the nation’s fuel supply. After all, the farm lobby is strong and the fact that most Midwest corn-growing states turned out for Trump makes any rollback from the present amounts of ethanol seem unlikely.

Then there’s the sticky matter of the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard that was increased by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. While the EPA administers the RFS program’s volume requirements, the law calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel use (in essence ethanol) by 2022. However, the only way to meet that requirement is to add higher and higher amounts of ethanol to each gallon of gas. In other words, increasing blends from E10 to E15 and higher going forward. But anything above the current E10 will be devastating to millions of small engines, marine and otherwise.

So the marine industry and allied groups that recognize that the RFS is clearly outdated now have an opportunity to make a successful appeal to the incoming administration for revision of the RFS that would limit future gasoline blends not to exceed the current E10 level. While revising the fuel standard wasn’t possible under the outgoing administration, the time has never been better with the new leadership coming to Washington.

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