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Context Florida: Ned Bowman: Rep. Castor needs to champion biofuels reform

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor returned to the Tampa Bay area to shore up her political base for what will be a tough re-election campaign and her noted policy prerogatives will be the hinge on which her political future hangs.

If she wants to show support for countless drivers and small businesses in the 14th District, she would be wise to take a vocal stand on the nation’s outdated ethanol mandate, which continues to put drivers and businesses in harm’s way.

Conceived in 2005 and aggressively revised in 2007, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was intended to lessen our gasoline demand, decrease our reliance on foreign oil and reduce our environmental impact through the blending of biofuels into the domestic gasoline supply.

Yet, the advanced, environmentally friendly biofuels the RFS promised have yet to come to fruition, and the majority of the mandate continues to be met with dirty and dangerous corn-based ethanol. Consumer advocates, auto, marine and small engine manufacturers, and small business owners have been outraged by the unintended consequences of the standard. Nonetheless, increasing amounts of ethanol continue to flow into our gas tanks at the expense of our engines and wallets.

As it stands, our nation’s fuel market cannot tolerate higher levels of ethanol-blended gasoline. Most vehicles, boats, motorcycles, small engine equipment and retail infrastructure are incapable of handling fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently permitted the sale of 15 percent ethanol (E15) in gasoline despite the serious risk to vehicles manufactured before 2001, marine engines, as well as smaller engines, like those in lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Vehicles manufactured since 2001 aren’t immune either. Both automakers and the AAA have warned against E15 use due to safety concerns and potential engine damage.

According to a recent Coordinating Research Council analysis, 5 million cars on the road may be at risk while 25 percent of E15-approved cars experience engine damage and/or engine failure during testing. In fact, many automakers have said they will not honor any fuel-related warranty claims on cars that have been fueled with E15 gasoline.

Condensation created by E15 can damage engines and result in corrosion, rust, clogging and deterioration of fuel system components.  This is especially worrisome in Florida where high humidity causes additional absorption of water by ethanol and further damage to fuel tanks.

In addition, unlike other petroleum products, ethanol is corrosive and easily damages pipelines and storage tanks. These issues cost small business owners throughout the state.

A resolution requiring double tanks in Florida gas stations was touted as a solution, but outrageously expensive damage still occurs.

There are key challenges with retail sale of ethanol blends higher than E10. Because blends degrade and damage storage tank systems and dispensing equipment, widespread use of E15 and higher will require that existing service station pumps, storage tanks and other associated systems be upgraded or replaced. But, installing new tanks and fuel dispensers cost more than $120,000 a pop — a steep cost that could financially ruin the many retailers who are independent business owners.

It is critical we continue to tell our policymakers in Washington about the damaging effects of the RFS — and demand a change. It’s high time policymakers admit the RFS has failed and work together to find a solution to prevent further harm to consumers, their engines and business owners in Florida. Rep. Castor would be wise to take the lead on this issue upon her return to the Capitol. Florida drivers and business owners will no doubt thank her for it.

Ned Bowman is Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenient Store Association (FPMA). FPMA works to protect thousands of businesses such as gas stations and convenient stores from the legislative process and laws potentially causing harm to businesses and their operations. Column courtesy of  Context Florida.

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