The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 5, 2013

Mark Singel | Getting real about ethanol


JOHNSTOWN — For a long time in this country, we have been talking about making ourselves less dependent on foreign oil – a goal that is admirable and worth pursuing whole-heartedly.

One of the main steps we have taken toward that goal in the past decade was the passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. As many people know, this is the law that requires renewable fuel sources to make up at least 10 percent of our gasoline. It’s also no secret that the primary product used to meet this requirement is corn-based ethanol. Unfortunately the mass production of ethanol has had serious unexpected impacts on our economy and our environment and it would be unwise to add more ethanol to the mix.

One unexpected side effect is that the use of corn for generating ethanol has reduced the supply of corn available for food. We have seen dramatic increases not only in the price of corn but the price of beef and poultry, which, of course, are fed with corn.

These price increases have had an effect at supermarket check-out counters. It is estimated that the average family of four is paying nearly $2,000 more annually for groceries than it was in 2005 when the Renewable Fuel Standard was enacted.

Furthermore, there are real issues with the efficiency of gasoline that contains ethanol. It is undisputed that ethanol contains less energy content than traditional gasoline, which results in less miles per gallon.

In an age when the push is on for increasing fuel efficiency for vehicles and there are more and more hybrid cars

on the road, does it really make sense for us to continue to use a fuel additive that makes our vehicles less fuel efficient?

One of the main goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard was a cleaner environment. If an engine works harder with ethanol, more emissions, not less, may be the result.

While there are advantages to some ethanol in the fuel mix when it comes to air quality, it’s hard to dispute that mass ethanol production has taken a toll on our environment in other ways.

Currently large amounts of land are being plowed under to generate enough corn for ethanol production. That land is being covered with fertilizer and chemicals to encourage faster growth.

Water consumption is also increased; it takes about 5 gallons of water to refine a gallon of oil into gasoline. It takes well over 140 gallons of water to generate a gallon of ethanol.

I believe it’s time we stop ignoring the unintended consequences of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Encouraging cleaner burning fuels is laudable, but adding more ethanol into the mix would be a mistake.

Mark S. Singel, a Johnstown native, is former lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania as well as former acting governor (1987-1995). He is president of the Winter Group of Harrisburg, dealing with government and public affairs.