Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Wisconsin Ethanol Mandate — the Case Against

JJ Blonien, Editor of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest, has put together a list of “talking points” on the ethanol mandate that a variety of special interests are pushing in the state legislature.

We haven’t fact checked the whole thing, but we know that the only possible justification for mandating a more expensive fuel that gets worse gas milage would be to reduce pollution.

Yet the Sierra Club isn’t impressed by the environmental arguments. In Pennsylvania, for example, the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Committee issued the following statement:
A summer 2003 paper published in Natural Resources Research 12(2): 127 134. June 2003 describes the problem with ethanol production precisely, “. . . studies suggest that the $1.4 billion in government subsidies are encouraging the ethanol program without substantial benefits to the U.S. economy . . . Subsidized ethanol production from U.S. corn is not a renewable energy source.”

Bob Barkanic, former DEP Deputy Secretary for Air, Recycling & Radiation, in a March 6, 2002 speech before the PA 21st Century Commission said that Pennsylvania should “. . . not trade off dependence on fossil fuel for dependence on large Midwestern agricultural concerns.”

It should be noted that Pennsylvania is already a net importer of corn; i.e., at this time, Pennsylvania does not grow enough corn to satisfy current needs for human food production and livestock feed. Fuel ethanol production would remove available livestock feed resources.

Ethanol production is inefficient with 29% more fossil fueled energy needed to produce a gallon of ethanol, than is available in that gallon of ethanol for energy use. The raising of corn increases soil erosion, depletes soil nutrients and uses more herbicides, pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers than any other crop. Ethanol evaporates easily, causing increases in summertime ozone smog pollution in higher population areas, such as Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Ethanol blended with gasoline is more volatile (evaporates more easily) than gasoline with other additives, and ethanol blends combined with other gasoline in the vehicle gas tank can be more volatile still, putting significantly more pollution into the air. Ethanol blends also increase VOC emissions from gasoline, one of major necessary components that combine to create polluting ground level ozone smog.

The state of Wisconsin reported in 2002 that offensive odors will be expected to result from production and will be in evidence from ½ mile to 1 mile from the source. So severe was the problem that they recommended and required an “Odor Mitigation Plan” for a proposed facility. Production causes pollution byproducts to be emitted into the air & include carcinogenic formaldehyde and acetic acid, and methanol, a federally classified hazardous pollutant. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on May 4, 2002 that EPA had issued a letter to the ethanol industry’s trade group identifying problems with plants releasing air pollutants in quantities many times greater than originally measured, with the problem being common to “. . .most, if not all, ethanol facilities. . .” In the air, ethanol itself will break down into highly toxic constituents (acetaldehyde and peroxyacetylnitrates [PAN] ), and Pennsylvania has yet to assess the effects of public exposure.

Ethanol has been evaluated for the effect of its use here in the northeast United States; ethanol degrades quickly in the environment and is therefore of concern because:
  • At higher concentrations, ethanol can make other gasoline components more soluble in groundwater;
  • In gasoline spills, ethanol can delay the degradation of other more toxic substances; and
  • Ethanol can cause gasoline to spread out laterally over greater distances as a layer on top of the water table.
  • The breakdown of ethanol in surface waters could potentially result in the consumption of significant quantities of dissolved oxygen and could result in fish kills, jeopardizing the local tourism industry;
  • Due to ethanol’s higher solubility, current treatment technologies such as adsorptive filters will not be effective;
  • The hazard potential for ethanol in drinking water is higher compared to other oxygenates from gasoline that leak into groundwater and drinking water systems, because of irreversible damage possible from repeated high level exposures.
There are health effects:
  • ethanol itself will break down into highly toxic constituents (acetaldehyde and peroxyacetylnitrates [PAN] ), and Pennsylvania has yet to assess the effects of public exposure.
  • Air toxics and ozone precursor pollution emissions into the air will increase if ethanol replaces current oxygenates in gasoline.
When both free market people and environmentalists agree on something, it’s pretty likely to be true.

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