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VTDigger: Welch Wants to Hold Line on Ethanol Mandate He Calls Harmful

December 13, 2016
In The News

By Mike Polhamus

Vermont’s lone member of the U.S. House said Tuesday he intends to fight any efforts to expand a massive nationwide subsidy to corn farmers instituted during the George W. Bush administration.

The subsidy, which requires that gasoline contain a certain percentage of ethanol made from corn, hurts Vermont farmers by making corn for livestock scarce and therefore expensive, said Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at a press event in Burlington.

Expansion of corn production in the country also threatens water quality by increasing the amount of plant nutrients spread on the ground, which find their way into bodies of water, he said.

The current fuel mix requirement of around 10 percent ethanol also harms small engines, Welch said.

Ethanol fouls carburetors, damages seals and shortens the life of an auto’s fuel pump, said Charlie Handy, a mechanic and co-owner of Handy’s Service Center in Burlington.

Engines aren’t generally designed to burn ethanol, Handy said, and small engines in particular suffer when it’s used as a fuel source.

Welch said a bill he’ll introduce next year will seek to cap the ethanol mix at 9.7 percent, instead of expanding it to 15 percent, as some have proposed.

Recent studies have confirmed what clean-water advocates have long suspected: that the fuel ethanol mandate “is horrible for water,” said Lake Champlain International’s executive director, James Ehlers, who spoke at Welch’s press event.

The federal renewable fuel standard aims to provide 36 billion gallons of fuel — estimated at up to one-quarter of the country’s transportation fuel supply by that time — from biological sources by 2022. The primary source is expected to be corn ethanol, with the more-advanced and less-polluting cellulosic fuel technology not expected to gain a majority of the biofuel market share until the early 2020s.

The fuel standard is unlikely to meet its stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without statutory changes, Welch said, because it relies too heavily on ethanol. The Government Accountability Office recently came to the same conclusion, he said.

Expanding the national fuel mix to 15 percent ethanol would expand a program that’s known not to work, Welch said.

He described the fuel standard as “a well-intentioned flop.”

It’s the only remaining federal corn ethanol incentive of three enacted during the George W. Bush administration with the stated aims of reducing dependence on foreign oil and cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The other incentives were a federal tax credit and a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Those were eliminated in 2011.