By Paris Achen
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch visited a family owned motorcycle shop in Essex Junction on Monday and announced he has reintroduced bipartisan legislation that would abolish a federal mandate to add biofuels, such as corn ethanol, to gasoline.
"Current law requires that corn-based ethanol be a part of all of our fuel," Welch said. "The corn-based ethanol has been a well-intentioned flop. It just has not achieved the goals it was set out to do."
The destructive effects of ethanol has boosted business at Frank's Motorcycle Sales and Service but hurt his customers, owner Lester Pelkey said.
Consumers might notice a sticker on gas pumps that says "contains 10 percent ethanol." Originally required as a step toward cleaner energy, ethanol causes corrosion and other damage to small engines, such as older-model motorcycles, Pelkey said.
The 8-year-old mandate has fueled demand for corn and prompted farmers to plow under conservation lands, calling into question ethanol's environmental benefits, Welch said.
Pelkey, a Republican, played host to Monday's news conference on the bill by Welch, a Democrat. Pelkey said he was willing to put aside political differences in order to show support for the legislation, which also is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia.
"I'm not in the Welch camp; I'm very Republican-oriented," Pelkey said. "But Peter has been very understanding toward the plight of people affected by ethanol. It's hard when you have something that is just causing hundreds of dollars in expense to each customer."
The bill -- known as the Renewable Fuel Standard Reform Act -- would cap the amount of ethanol mixed into gasoline at 10 percent, end the mandate for corn ethanol and encourage the use of other biofuels.
Shane Prisby of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers said that ethanol also has had a negative impact on snowmobile engines, and he supports the bill.
The mandate drives up the price of corn used in some types of feed and increases overhead costs to dairy and cattle farmers, said Welch, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association dispute that claim.
Beth Elliott, director of public policy with the National Corn Growers Association, said ethanol remains the "most environmentally sound and cost-efficient" way to achieve a high octane for engine performance and minimal emissions.
Elliott said ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, which results in savings to drivers on every gallon.
Bob Dinneen of the Renewable Fuels Association said in a statement last month that the mandate is responsible for the creation of an industry with 400,000 jobs and a $44 billion contribution to the gross domestic product.
Despite the opposition, the bill has bipartisan support in Congress, Welch said. Speaker John Boehner will have the final say on whether the legislation receives a vote. Welch introduced the legislation last year but encountered strong resistance to the proposal from members of Congress from corn-growing states, said Ryan Nickel, a spokesman in Welch's office. Boehner refused to bring it to the floor, Nickel said.
The bill's other co-sponsors are Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Steve Womack, R-Arkansas.