More Ethanol? Not So Fast, Says Congressional Committee


The Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently approved two important bills that coordinate and prioritize federal research expenditures.  One bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to coordinate with the National Academy of Sciences to comprehensively assess scientific and technical research on gasoline blends with 15 percent ethanol, commonly referred to as E15, before such fuels may be approved for consumer use.

 “I am pleased that the Committee voted today to put science before politics,” said the Committee’s Vice Chairman, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).  “When it comes to a decision of this magnitude that would impact every American who owns a car, boat, or lawnmower, we must base our decisions on sound science, not political expediency.  The Administration has fast tracked E15 without considering that increasing the percentage of ethanol in our gasoline will cause premature engine failure, lower fuel efficiency, and void vehicle warranties.  In small engines, E15 is downright dangerous and the EPA has no credible plan to stop mis-fueling.  If ethanol is going to be the ‘fuel of the future,’ then there should be no problem conducting independent, comprehensive scientific analysis of its effect on American drivers.”

Indeed, if the claims above are true, these blended fuels could become an insurance issue, especially in small engines.  I haven’t heard glowing reports about ethanol as it now stands, but when I did some digging I found an interesting comparison of gasoline vs. E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) in a Chevy Tahoe.  While the ethanol level was much higher here, the results are fascinating.  Accoding to, “The fuel economy of our Tahoe on E85, under these conditions, was 26.5 percent worse than it was when running on gas.” 

So why would anyone want to run on ethanol at lower miles-per-gallon?  The apparent answer is to “save the environment” by reducing air pollution.  The Edmunds study, however, revealed that, “our gasoline round trip produced 706.5 pounds of carbon dioxide. On E85, the CO2 emissions came to 703.1 pounds. The difference came out in E85’s favor, but only by a scant 0.5 percent. Call it a tie. This is certainly not the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions we had been led to expect.” 

So there you have it.  Ethanol is not much of a performer on any front, and the insurance community should consider how it might respond if ethanol levels are boosted. 

By the way, the Senate Committee adds that, “A diverse group of 31 organizations ranging from Friends of the Earth to the American Petroleum Institute to the Milk Producers Council signed a letter in support of H.R. 3199, urging further study of E15 before EPA permits its use.”


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