By Roger Johnson, NFU President
In his original designs, Henry Ford believed that American automobiles would run on domestically produced, renewable ethanol. Today, however, Big Oil continues to enjoy $40 billion annually in subsidies and Americans are struggling to pay $4.00 per gallon of gasoline at the pump. Every year, we send $337 billion to the Mideast to support volatile petro dictators when a perfectly good solution exists in the Midwest: American ethanol. Ethanol significantly reduces American dependence on foreign oil, creates rural jobs, and reduces prices at the pump by nearly a dollar per gallon, according to a recent Iowa State University study. Ethanol also provides benefits to the environment and public health that are often overlooked in the energy debate. As millions of Americans take to the roads this summer, NFU believes that we can continue to improve on ethanol’s already stellar track record.
In order for cars to run properly, they require high-octane gasoline. Early in the 20th century, lead was used as a high octane agent in gasoline. Later, lead was discovered to be highly toxic and was subsequently removed. In the 1980s, two substitutes emerged: alcohol and aromatics such as benzene, toluene and xylene. The problem with aromatics is that they are more toxic than regular gasoline and highly carcinogenic. Aromatics are also the largest single source of fine particle (“PM 2.5”) pollution, which contributes to 100,000 deaths each year, according to the Clean Air Task Force. This finding led Congress to amend the Clean Air Act in 1990 to require the phase-out of aromatics and mandate “clean octane” for gasoline. Today, ethanol comprises 10 percent of U.S. gasoline. Aromatics represent a substantially smaller portion of gasoline, but unfortunately are yet to be completely eliminated.
Ethanol is a clean-burning, high-octane fuel that is the perfect solution to this problem. According to the California Air Resources Board, ethanol substantially reduces harmful gasoline emissions. In fact, a March 2011 Environmental Protection Agency report estimates that reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the 1990 Clean Air Act will save $20 trillion in 2020 while saving 230,000 people from early death. It is time that the Clean Air Act amendments are implemented to phase out aromatics and substitute cleaner burning ethanol.
In order to blend higher percentages of ethanol, we also need greater investment in infrastructure such as blender pumps and flex fuel vehicles. Flex fuel vehicles, which can handle blends up to 85 percent ethanol, will be able to replace a large portion of harmful aromatics and significantly reduce oil imports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Rural Energy for America Program or REAP, is currently working to meet President Obama’s goal of installing 10,000 blender pumps nationwide. This critical investment will soon result in higher blends of ethanol being made available to consumers. Detroit also needs to get on board by producing more flex fuel vehicles.
Ethanol saves money at the pump, reduces dependence on foreign oil, and reduces harmful air pollutants. It is time that our country takes a serious look at our current energy policy and considers the benefits of promoting a safe, clean, home grown, renewable industry— American Ethanol.