Regulatory Commissars

King Corn Wins Again

Trump's EPA authorizes expanded use of E15 through the summer months.

Lewis Morris · Jun. 4, 2019

The Trump administration has okayed the use of 15% ethanol fuel (known as E15) year-round, and just in time for the summer driving season. The move is a naked political ploy and a bad choice for the environment at that, but as in prior years, all logic bends to the will of King Corn.

President Donald Trump suggested late last year that he was considering expanding ethanol availability as a means of helping farmers hurt by the trade war with China. The EPA first proposed a rule change back in March to make gasoline with higher concentrations of ethanol available year-round.

These higher amounts of ethanol fuel had previously been banned during the summer months because studies found that when the fuel burns at higher temperatures, it can lead to smog, particularly in urban areas. Evidently, the Environmental Protection Agency is unconcerned about such environmental warnings.

Worse, reports The Wall Street Journal, “In addition to the E15 concession, the EPA has mandated a 630-million-gallon increase in the volume of advanced biofuels blended into the fuel supply nationwide. That includes biofuels made from soybeans and sorghum — crops also hurt by tariffs.”

Previous EPA administrators claimed they did not have the authority to allow summer sales of E15, but current chief Andrew Wheeler said this recent move is a reinterpretation of the law. This is government-speak for, “The rules say we can’t. We say we can.”

Wheeler insisted that the changes were not an attempt to appease farmers who have lost sales due to China’s retaliatory tariffs. Instead, according to Wheeler, the rule changes were a fix to a troubled program that will boost sales for farmers and ethanol producers.

Isn’t that the same thing?

Trump needs the Corn Belt to win reelection, and that means keeping the Midwestern states happy. He has already offered $28 billion in direct payments to farmers hurt by Chinese tariffs, which were specifically targeted to hit states that Trump won in 2016. Wheeler can use whatever linguistic gymnastics he likes, but this is about votes and nothing besides. It’s certainly not about concern for Mother Earth.

Ethanol is bad for the environment. It uses vast amounts of water to produce. The drive to plant more corn to make ethanol throws the ecology off balance (as well as market prices for crops), drains nutrients from the soil, and leads to a polluted water table due to the increased use of fertilizers to grow all that corn. Furthermore, there has never been any substantiated evidence proving that the increased use of ethanol has had any positive impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

It has been proven, however, that ethanol use degrades engines and fuel lines faster than regular gasoline, especially in small engines like yard equipment. This, of course, leads to increased maintenance and the need for more parts to make up for the wear and tear. This increased industrial production, which would not otherwise take place, strains the environment to some degree on its own, as does the added waste of worn out parts.

Worst of all, it also starves people as food corn is replaced by higher ethanol-producing corns. People are literally dying around the world due to ethanol.

In short, ethanol is a swamp boondoggle.

With all this environmental damage being caused by ethanol, you would think Democrats would oppose the fuel additive. But they need votes, too. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the dozens of earnest Democrat candidates for president, has said she would go as far as eliminating waivers for small refiners that let gasoline producers skirt ethanol requirements. Just like Republicans, with the exception of Sen. Ted Cruz, Klobuchar and other Democrats will promise whatever it takes to get the support of Iowa voters.

Trump is probably the only person in a position of power who has the intestinal fortitude to call ethanol what it is, a farce and a failure, and do something about it. Unfortunately, he’s done just the opposite. His latest move to double down on ethanol signifies that we’re not going to see an end to King Corn anytime soon.

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