EPA more enemy than ally to ethanol

There is a long history of antagonism and sometimes outward hostility by the EPA toward ethanol, writes Mike Bryan. This column is titled "Ally or Enemy" in the September issue of EPM.
By Mike Bryan | August 20, 2015

Most of us find it strange and frustrating that we are continually at loggerheads with the U.S. EPA over a variety of issues pertaining to the use of higher blends of ethanol and the continuation of the renewable fuels standard (RFS). But it should not come as any surprise, because when we look at the relationship between the EPA and ethanol, there is a long history of antagonism and sometimes outward hostility by the EPA toward ethanol.

There probably has not been a liquid fuel that has endured more testing by the EPA than ethanol. There have been no automotive fuels, that I am aware of that have had as many stumbling blocks put in front of them by the EPA as ethanol.

Look at the history—evaporative emissions, permeation, NOx emissions, formaldehyde, land use, fuel economy testing, pump labeling—the list is almost endless. Most, if not all, of these were issues generated by the EPA with oil industry prodding. As a result, many of these draconian policies and ideas were adopted on a state level, with California being the most prominent.

Some would argue that the oil industry was forced to reduce emissions as well, with the most significant being octane enhancers like benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX). While that was, in fact, the case, ethanol provided an easy answer. It boosted the octane and replaced large amounts of BTX in gasoline with a clean, domestically produced, renewable energy. The oil industry over the years has essentially had a free ride, thanks to the EPA and federal and state governments.

Even today, the tax incentive for ethanol was stripped away, but remains in place for an industry that extracts hundreds of billions of dollars in profit every year from the American consumer. The oil industry has not substantially changed its methods of production in the past hundred years. I guess the EPA has simply grandfathered in their right to pollute.

The truth be known, the auto industry has done far more to reduce pollution than the oil industry has ever had to do. Tighter restrictions of automotive emissions and their continued quest for better, more fuel-efficient and cleaner automobiles should put the oil industry to shame. Yet, oil gets the EPA’s nod of approval over and over, while at the same time the EPA seems to do everything it can to further restrict the use of ethanol.

Way back when, I naively thought that ethanol would become the fuel of choice for the EPA and they would be allies in turning the tide away from oil. In fact, just the opposite has been true. The EPA has fought ethanol tooth and nail all the way and has had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting ethanol blends as a major contributor to cleaner air and energy security.

With allies like the EPA, we certainly don’t need enemies.

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com