Trump loosens restrictions on ethanol, increases smog

Ethanol Cartoon
© Andy Singer

There is an election coming up and the farm vote matters.

Ethanol has been added to gasoline since the oil crisis of the 70s. Everybody knew that making alcohol from corn wasn't very efficient, but energy independence from OPEC was more important, and hey, it was just a phase before cellulosic ethanol replaced corn. After the crisis was over, federal and state governments kept those farmers planting corn with subsidies and here we are, 40 years later, still putting food in our gas tanks.

Selling gas with 15 percent ethanol (E15) wasn't allowed in summer months; it raises the vapor pressure of the fuel. In warm weather it evaporates more quickly and leads to greater smog formation and greater concentrations of surface ozone, which causes inflamed lungs, impaired immune systems and heart disease.

But that's mainly concentrated in cities where there are lots of cars and they are probably full of Democrats. Out in Iowa, the farmers have been suffering because of trade battles with China and tariff wars with Canada and there is an election coming, so the President is lifting the ban on summer use of ethanol. According to Reuters:

“My administration is protecting ethanol. ... Today we are unleashing the power of E15 to fuel our country all year long,” Trump told a cheering crowd of supporters at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

corn planted for ethanol© Scott Olson/Getty Images

Farmers are pleased.

“It’s about time,” said Warren Bachman, a 72-year-old corn and soybean farmer in Iowa. “With all the trade wars, tariffs and low crop prices, it seems like we are taking it in the shorts and bearing all the burden.”

Because people drive more in summer, it will make a big difference in ethanol sales, doubling them from the current 400 million gallons currently burned. That's a lot of corn, and smog isn't the only problem. According to energy expert Robert Rapier writing in Forbes,

Many conservationists who are already concerned about the environmental impacts of ethanol are staunchly opposed to this move. They fear not just the potential for greater smog formation, but other environmental impacts like greater fertilizer runoff into the watershed as corn production is expanded.

There are other problems with ethanol; according to Andrew Krok in Roadshow, it reduces fuel economy because it is less dense. "It can also cause a number of issues in carbureted vehicles, which classic-car owners will definitely not enjoy."

While it's been cleared for use in light-duty vehicles (model year 2001 and after) since 2011, some automakers still tell owners not put E15 in their vehicles. Higher alcohol content is corrosive to old rubber seals, and it's still not certified for use in equipment like lawnmowers and outboard motors. According to Popular Mechanics, if your car is older than 2001 you should avoid it. It dissolves fiberglass gas tanks in boats and "forms a brown goo when left in a fuel tank too long."

Ethanol also attracts and bonds with water from the air, and that water can separate out inside the tank due to phase separation. If your vehicle sits for long periods between use, the moisture settles to the bottom of the tank and can potentially clog in-tank pumps and filters. Damage is also possible in fuel lines, injectors, seals, gaskets, and valve seats, as well as carburetors on older engines.

There are zero environmental benefits from burning ethanol instead of gasoline. As Andy Singer notes in his cartoon, it probably takes as much energy to make the stuff as you get out of it. Burning it in summer is harmful and creates smog. It damages your car and reduces fuel efficiency; but the USA is now an exporter of fossil fuels, so energy independence is not an issue.

The only reason the entire country has to suffer its effects is because trade wars with China have hurt farmers in Iowa and it is election time.

We used to write a lot about the stupidity of ethanol; not much has changed. Check out the related links below for some history.

Trump loosens restrictions on ethanol, increases smog
There is an election coming up and the farm vote matters.

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