The federal requirement to blend ethanol with gasoline is causing a transfer of wealth from New England states like New Hampshire into corn-growing states in the Midwest, according to a study released on Monday by a group of business and environmental groups.
“A High Price to Pay: The Hidden Costs of Corn-Ethanol Mandates on New England” is part of an anti-ethanol PR blitz that has included saturation television and radio advertising in the region, as the EPA approaches a Nov. 30 deadline for deciding the future of the controversial corn-based fuel.
Ethanol was introduced to replace the highly toxic MBTE as a gasoline additive in 2005, in the hope that it would reduce carbon emissions and ease our reliance on imported oil. If 10 percent of the gasoline in your vehicle is ethanol, theoretically that’s 10 percent fewer gallons of imported oil.
But it hasn’t worked out that way, according to opponents of the ethanol mandate. It’s obsolete, they say, because the United States is now a net exporter of petroleum products, and any environmental benefit from lower carbon emissions on the highways is offset by the carbon generated in the farming and processing of all that corn.
“We’ve got to just acknowledge that the corn-based mandate is a well-intended flop,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. It’s also proven very costly to New Hampshire, according to the Center for Regulatory Solutions, which released the anti-ethanol report.
“Increasingly aggressive ethanol mandates are hurting New England’s economy, particularly small businesses, and driving up transportation costs for millions of people who live in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire,” the report states.
Additional fuel costs
Since ethanol provides about two-thirds of the energy per gallon compared to gasoline, New Englanders are getting one-third less mileage for each gallon of ethanol they consume, without any of the corresponding economic benefits seen in the corn-producing states, according to the Center for Regulatory Solutions.
The report estimates that New Hampshire motorists spent $560 million in additional fuel costs over the past decade, or $5.6 billion across the six states, because of ethanol’s lower efficiency.
With all that corn going to produce ethanol, the price of feed for livestock and meat prices have been adversely affected as well.
“Higher fuel prices, more expensive agricultural and farming inputs, and upward pressure on food prices have negatively affected New England’s economy while benefiting the ethanol industry in the handful of corn states,” the report states.
Proponents argue that the mandate continues to create jobs, spur economic growth and reduce greenhouse gases.
“Biofuel producers are working to meet the energy needs of America, and the Renewable Fuels Standard is an energy policy that is working,” said Tom Buis, co-chairman of Growth Energy, which represents the biofuels industry. “It is doing exactly what it was intended to do, with great success. It is irresponsible to rely solely on fossil fuels, and we should not put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to our national and energy security.”
Both sides are pushing their points in New Hampshire during the first-in-the-nation Primary.
“In the last couple months, we’ve heard from Granite Staters who think the ethanol mandate is a broken policy,” said Kate Lagreca with Northwind Strategies. “From small engine wear, to increased food costs, this is an issue that impacts folks in the state — and may impact the upcoming election.”
Lagreca cited a poll showing that nearly half of New Hampshire voters, 42 percent, said they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who supported the ethanol mandate. Ethanol opponents are trying to leverage New Hampshire opposition to offset strong support for the program in Iowa, the first presidential caucus state.
Public comments from New Hampshire residents on the EPA rulemaking website regarding the upcoming ethanol decision include statements by state representatives, business owners, boaters and motorcycle enthusiasts, all urging an end to the mandate, or at least no increase in the level of corn-based ethanol required.
Delegation weighs in
Members of the state’s congressional delegation voiced similar sentiments.
“Sen. [Kelly] Ayotte supports bipartisan efforts to repeal the corn ethanol mandate, which drives up the prices of food, feed and gas,” said spokesman Lauren Zelt.
U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta said, “Consumers could pay 25 percent more per gallon of gas to meet EPA rules. That’s serious money for working families and many struggling to make ends meet. I expect the EPA to work with Congress on any future plans for the blending requirement, weighing its economic impact on New Hampshire.”
U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster said she supports efforts to develop renewable fuels, but said, “I do not support an ethanol mandate that exceeds the infrastructure constraints and economic realities in the transportation fuel market.”
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