Saturday, October 16, 2010

The power of the Iowa caucus

In a move that triggered immediate, furious controversy, the government said Wednesday that gasoline now may contain up to 15% ethanol — grain alcohol, usually from corn in the U.S. — instead of just 10%.

The Environmental Protection Agency ruling approves E15 only for 2007 model and newer cars and trucks. But EPA hinted it soon will include vehicles back to 2001. "Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm" newer vehicles, EPA chief Lisa Jackson said.
EPA said E15 is not legal in older vehicles, heavy-duty equipment, boats and small engines such as in lawn mowers.

The action is a response to a March 2009 petition by ethanol backer Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers. It has no effect on E85 — an 85% ethanol mix not even considered gasoline. E85 can be used in "flex-fuel" vehicles designed for it.

E15 is allowed, not required, and some gas stations are likely to skip the expense of converting from the common E10 or the straight gasoline they sell now.

Ethanol backers say the move will cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change, help corn farmers and provide U.S. jobs.

Opponents — an unlikely alliance of environmentalists, food companies, small-engine makers, oil companies and more — say using more corn-based ethanol could damage engines, push up grocery prices and increase air pollution.

"Burning ethanol can cause toxic air pollutants to be emitted from vehicle tailpipes . . ."

There are no economic, environmental, security or engineering justifications for the increased percentage of ethanol in gasoline.

The only reason is the strength of the corn growers' lobby in Iowa, the site of the early and important presidential caucus.

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