The Environmental Protection Agency's new openness to reducing 2014's ethanol mandate is welcome. But the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) it's part of never should have become law in the first place.
Making an all-too-rare move, the EPA is acknowledging how unrealistic ethanol mandates are in light of the refining industry's “blend wall” reality. With Americans driving less and cars more fuel-efficient, they're burning less gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol, making it difficult for refiners to blend enough ethanol into enough gasoline to meet the mandate.
Yet easing the 2014 ethanol mandate would only reduce — by a bit — the harm done by RFS, without which the corn-based ethanol market wouldn't exist.
Taking more energy to produce than it yields as fuel, corn-based ethanol adds 5 to 10 cents per gallon to gasoline's price, according to The Wall Street Journal. And by diverting about a third of the U.S. corn crop for ethanol, on average, the fuel standards raise costs for food consumers and livestock producers, too.
Some say refiners should address the “blend wall” by upping gasoline's ethanol content to 15 percent. But “E15” lowers fuel efficiency and can damage engines and void vehicle warranties, making refiners and gas stations wary of liability.
Easing the 2014 ethanol mandate would be a step in the right direction — but better to do away entirely with RFS, a failed, market-distorting diktat that Washington never should have issued.
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