Op-Ed: Pallone Needs to Help Reform Renewable Fuel Standard

Drew Tompkins, Paul Eidman | September 20, 2018 | Opinion
Adding ethanol to gasoline is a perfect example of unintended environmental and economic consequences

Paul Eidman, left, and Drew Tompkins
When a policy designed to help the environment fails to reach its goals — and contributes to problems it was intended to abate while causing economic harm, it’s time to make a change.

For a decade, the American Renewable Fuel Standard has mandated the blending of a certain percentage of biofuel (typically corn ethanol) to gasoline sold in the United States to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and dependence on imported oil. Instead, good intentions led to serious and accumulating environmental and economic impacts. For that reason, we call upon Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to work to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard.

The production of ethanol is extremely carbon- and land-intensive. The policy is supposed to prohibit the conversion of previously untilled lands (such as rare native prairies) to row crops. But lack of enforcement contributed to the loss of more than seven million acres of grasslands and other habitats to cropland between 2008 and 2012.

Between 2005 and 2007, more than 3.2 million acres were plowed and drained in the Prairie Pothole Region, the most important breeding habitat in North America for waterfowl — including northern pintails, American black ducks, blue-winged teals, and canvasbacks. New Jersey banded-bird recoveries show that several species originating in this region migrate to our state.

Climate-disrupting pollution

This massive land conversion in the years immediately following enactment of the ethanol mandate produced climate-disrupting pollution equivalent to 20 million additional cars on the road annually. In the near to medium term, the land conversion contributes more atmospheric warming emissions than traditional gasoline. This directly impacts a coastal state, such as New Jersey, which continues to experience more intense and frequent bouts of flooding in the face of climate change.

While clearly failing to deliver environmental benefits as intended, the ethanol mandate also creates economic impacts among a diverse array of constituents, including boaters.

Harmful to gas-powered marine engines

Ethanol (E10) is harmful to gas-powered marine engines because of inherent properties that cause corrosion and the degradation of fuel-tank and hose linings.

Ethanol has a nasty habit of dissolving resins, rust, and dirt in older fuel-tank walls, and creates a gooey substance that clogs fuel lines and filters.

These effects are particularly problematic when they occur at sea, miles away from land. Repairs to engines are costly, and for those that make their living running charters, impact their ability to operate during times of needed repair.

Older engines were not designed to run on E10 and even newer engines will not be able to handle E15, gasoline that is 15 percent ethanol and currently sold in some markets.

Ethanol adds oxygen to fuel and makes engines run hotter so proposals to expand E15 availability are troubling and could lead to widespread mechanical failure in all boat engines.

While many would argue that specific labels and sale for fuel intended for marine use are an option, it is important to remember that most boaters fill up their tanks at land-based gas stations. Additionally, many machines with small engines suffer a similar fate from ethanol use, including those in lawnmowers and snow blowers.

Homeowners and businesses throughout the 6th District, which Pallone represents, have been negatively impacted by the current fuel standard without environmental benefits to justify the heavy costs.

A GREENER solution

The GREENER Fuels Act (HR-5212) is one potential way to begin to address this problem.

Introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, it seeks to reform the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard by reducing the amount of ethanol in our fuel, placing a firm cap on the blend level of 9.7 percent and preventing the expansion of E15.

While the legislation awaits consideration and action, many potential reforms could lessen the environmental and economic impacts of ethanol in the meantime.

We urge Pallone to stand up for environmental protection as he has done so many times previously and take every opportunity to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard so that it makes environmental and economic sense, while removing the burden on business people and homeowners in our state.