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Weekly Column - Wicker Bill Would Reverse Harmful EPA Regulation


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Last month, I introduced legislation with Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) to reverse an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that would lead to an increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline. With budgets tight and gas prices high, shortsighted policies from government bureaucrats should not add to the financial burdens of American consumers, which higher levels of ethanol in gasoline threaten to do.

The Problem With E15

Specifically, my legislation would prohibit EPA from allowing gasoline blends with 15 percent ethanol, or E15, to be used in passenger cars and trucks. It also would repeal the two waivers EPA has issued for the use of E15 in vehicles manufactured after 2000. Although motor fuel with 10 percent ethanol is common at the pump, studies conclude that E15 can cause premature engine damage and reduce fuel efficiency, forcing drivers to endure added maintenance costs and refuel more frequently.

Last year, AAA raised these concerns in urging the Obama Administration and gasoline retailers to stop the sale of E15. The trusted auto club called for more testing and consumer education, warning that the use of E15 could lead to voided vehicle warranties. A number of auto manufacturers have already said E15 does not meet their fuel requirements and that warranty coverage would not apply. Adding to concerns is the fact that higher-ethanol gas is not always labeled properly at the pump.

Higher Grocery Bills

It is important to recognize that the impact of EPA's push to increase ethanol quantities in gasoline goes far beyond the fuel market. A large percentage of the ethanol blended in gasoline comes from corn, which means corn prices may rise as demand for ethanol rises. Higher corn prices lead to higher costs for livestock and poultry producers, who rely on corn feed. In turn, American families face higher bills at the grocery store.

We saw during last year's drought the devastating impact that severe weather can have on America's corn crop, of which about 40 percent is devoted to ethanol production. A 2005 federal mandate implemented a floor on the volume of ethanol that must be included in the United States' gasoline supply. This volume increases annually.

Last year, I joined a bipartisan group in asking EPA to lower the required amount of corn-based ethanol in light of the drought's impact on market conditions. Meanwhile, corn prices reached an all-time high. Because America is the world's leading corn producer and exporter, the effect was felt across the globe. Given current realities, and EPA's refusal to exercise flexibility, it is worthwhile to revisit these issues.

Promoting Policies That Work

It should be noted that next-generation biofuels can play a role in diversifying America's energy production. A truly "all-of-the-above" approach should utilize all types of energy, from renewable resources to oil and natural gas. And yet, sensible policies must be in place to ensure that Americans reap the benefits without bearing unnecessary costs. Studies have questioned ethanol's impact on energy independence. Even onetime supporters, like former Vice President Al Gore, have acknowledged its shortcomings.

Prohibiting E15 waivers is one way to curb EPA's misguided overreach. Ethanol's costs and consequences should be fully understood before far-reaching rules take effect. Instead of hurting consumers, America's energy policy should promote efficiency and value.

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