Drain­ing the ethanol tank

Trump shouldn’t al­low corn to re­main king at the gas pump

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Red may be the color of Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica, but yel­low is the color of the na­tion’s most fa­vored cash crop. Corn is good, es­pe­cially sweet corn swathed in but­ter for sup­per on a gen­tle sum­mer’s night. Mules like field corn, and so they should.

But with a Repub­li­can Con­gress, the new pres­i­dent will have the first op­por­tu­nity in nearly a decade to cut back some of the corny reg­u­la­tions that Pres­i­dent Obama has im­posed on the land­scape. A fit­ting tar­get for the par­ing knife should be the un­pop­u­lar and un­wieldy Re­new­able Fuel Stan­dard, which re­quires the ad­di­tion of corn-de­rived ethanol to pe­tro­leum-based fu­els. Corn may be king in the Mid­dle West, but it shouldn’t rule the road from coast to coast.

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) re­cently pub­lished its 2017 pro­duc­tion tar­gets for ethanol and other bio­fu­els, and like past years, it re­quires an ocean of the homegrown fuel be poured into the gaso­line tanks of the na­tion’s cars and trucks. To­tal re­new­able fuel sup­plies are man­dated to rise from 18.11 bil­lion gal­lons this year to 19.28 bil­lion gal­lons in 2017, an in­crease of 6 per­cent. Oil re­fin­ers are re­quired to blend the juice into their gaso­line and diesel fuel, or pay sub­stan­tial penal­ties.

The prob­lem with all that ethanol is where to pour it. Though the United States con­sumed 140.4 bil­lion gal­lons of fuel in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Agency, that’s about 2 bil­lion less than in 2007. While the na­tion’s fuel con­sump­tion has fallen, the EPA’s bio­fu­els re­quire­ment has risen, leav­ing re­fin­ers awash in the stuff. Putting more than 10 per­cent ethanol into the tank of a modern au­to­mo­bile risks dam­ag­ing the en­gine.

To be fair, the Re­new­able Fuel Stan­dard is a dilemma not en­tirely of the EPA’s mak­ing. The En­ergy In­de­pen­dence and Se­cu­rity Act of 2007 man­dat­ing bio­fu­els was the brain­child of the Repub­li­can Con­gress dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush. Leg­is­la­tors were per­suaded that ethanol would pro­vide a sup­ple­ment that could reduce the na­tion’s de­pen­dence on for­eign oil. Fail­ing to fore­see the global eco­nomic down­turn, they un­leashed a tidal wave of sun-ripened fuel that grows ev­ery year. It was all with the best of mo­ti­va­tions, but as Dr. John­son ob­served, “The road to hell is paved with good in­ten­tions.”

Dur­ing his pres­i­dency, Mr. Obama has been a record-set­ting paver: He has strewn the na­tion with more than 80,000 pages of new rules for 2016 alone. Dur­ing his eight-year White House ten­ure, the pres­i­dent will have served 551 “eco­nom­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant” reg­u­la­tions — those with a potential eco­nomic im­pact ex­ceed­ing $100 mil­lion. By com­par­i­son, his pre­de­ces­sor, Ge­orge W. Bush, is­sued only 390, which was ex­ces­sive enough.

A decade af­ter pas­sage, the Re­new­able Fuel Stan­dard gob­bles up 40 per­cent of the U.S. corn crop, pay­ing farm­ers with cash from a govern­ment-backed mar­ket but cost­ing driv­ers an es­ti­mated $83 bil­lion in ex­tra fuel costs. Dur­ing that pe­riod, breath­tak­ing ad­vances in drilling tech­niques have un­locked enor­mous reser­voirs of oil and natural gas, driv­ing down fuel prices to levels thought to have dis­ap­peared for­ever. Driv­ers were pay­ing around $3 a gal­lon in 2007; the cur­rent price in most places is a lit­tle over $2 a gal­lon. There’s no longer a rea­son­able ra­tio­nale for forc­ing Amer­i­cans to pay higher prices for ethanol-di­luted gas.

Ronald Rea­gan once ob­served that “a govern­ment reg­u­la­tion is the near­est thing to eter­nal life that any­one will see on this earth.” Repub­li­cans led by Don­ald Trump should prove the Gip­per wrong by end­ing the ethanol man­date, and leave corn to the sup­per ta­ble.

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