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Commentary

Big Oil's big smear

Special to The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:36 PM

Big Oil's best kept secret from the American consumer is Brazil's fuel ethanol mandate, which started during the 1970s as a result of the OPEC oil embargoes. In Brazil, where ethanol is made from sugar cane, all gasoline contains 20 percent to 25 percent ethanol (E20-E25). At retail stations, consumers can choose to fuel up on 100 percent ethanol (E100) or with E20 to E25.

For decades, conventional unmodified automobiles in Brazil ran on E20-E25 with no engine problems whatsoever. By 2003, the Brazilian government incentivized the sale of flex-fuel automobiles which can run on any blend of ethanol up to E100. As of December 2010, Brazil had more than 12 million flex-fuel vehicles and 500,000 motorcycles regularly using E100 fuel. Even small engines for lawn equipment have successfully used E20-E25 in Brazil.

Yet here in the United States, Big Oil and the American Petroleum Institute have launched an all-out war against ethanol via a massive advertising smear campaign in an attempt to quash the U.S. ethanol industry. In fact, the API has publicly announced it is seeking a congressional repeal of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS-2), which mandates our country use 36 billion gallons per year of biofuel, mainly ethanol, by 2022. Currently, the United States is at 14 billion gallons per year of production capacity from corn ethanol, which saturates the U.S. gasoline market at a 10 percent ethanol blend (E10). However, the RFS-2 caps corn ethanol at 15 billion gallons, and the remaining volumes to meet the RFS-2 will be primarily from non-food feedstocks.

The 36 billion gallons represents about 25 percent of our country's gasoline supply. Big Oil and API claim that E15, which is gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol, is not safe for motor vehicles, will damage engines and void warranties, and is not adequately tested for car use. Never mind that E15 is by far the most thoroughly tested motor fuel in the history of the EPA, and has been approved by EPA for car models 2001 and newer. Never mind that E20 and E25 have been used in unmodified conventional automobiles in Brazil for decades with no motor problems.

The reality is that Big Oil is fearful of losing market share to ethanol by going to blends higher than E10, which are required to meet the RFS-2 blending requirements. The perpetuation of myths and misinformation on the facts and benefits of ethanol is rampant and escalating.

Here in Florida, certain members of our state Legislature continue to attempt to take Florida in the wrong direction when it comes to biofuels and state energy security.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, are sponsoring a bill (HB 4001, SB 320) to repeal Florida's Renewable Fuel Standard ("RFS"), which requires that all state gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol (commonly known as E10).

If we dig beneath the surface, we can see what forces are really at play here. The Gaetz–Evers legislation is in complete alignment with Big Oil. The repeal of the Florida RFS would serve as a stepping stone for Big Oil's initiative to eliminate the national RFS-2. A repeal of the RFS-2 would keep our country and our economy totally dependent on fossil fuels, and would put Big Oil back in charge of discretionary blending of ethanol and proliferating our addiction to petroleum. And we cannot "frack" our way into energy independence with dirty, climate-warming oil.

Does Florida want to be known as the state that helped catalyze our country's reversion to a 100 percent fossil-fuel based economy, at a time when the state is on the cusp of an emerging advanced biofuel industry from nonfood-based feedstocks? The Gaetz–Evers legislation is an extension of Big Oil's attempt to quash the ethanol industry in order to maintain market share and control.

One has to wonder whether Gaetz or Evers has traveled to Brazil to learn about its ethanol program. A trip might change their misguided viewpoints on ethanol here in the Unites States. They would see how successful the Brazilian ethanol mandate is, and how beneficial it has been to the Brazilian economy in terms of job creation, energy independence and drastically improved air quality in cities such as San Paulo.

Brazil serves as an excellent case study on why government mandates work. Today, approximately 50 percent of Brazil's motor fuel supply is ethanol because of ethanol's mandated use, which has allowed Brazil to eliminate the importation of foreign oil altogether.

Brazil is essentially energy independent, thanks to its ethanol program, which supplements its own domestic supply of petroleum.

Mandates provide stability, market certainty and substantially reduce risk to the investment community. Mandates also are established for the good of society, which in the case of ethanol is to create national energy security.

Why, then, has Brazil's ethanol mandate success story not rung a bell with our country, in which we should be emulating the Brazilian model? The answer is lack of awareness by the average American. The last thing the anti-ethanol lobby wants is for Brazil's successful ethanol mandate to positively resonate within our society.

How long are we Americans going to allow certain entities within Big Oil to dictate our energy policies? Corn ethanol may not be the "perfect liquid fuel," but it is clean burning, high octane, creates tens of thousands of jobs and no longer receives federal subsidies. And I would rather pay the American farmer any day than to send my fuel dollars overseas to hostile countries.

The truth is, the corn ethanol industry has set a tremendous foundation for the ongoing transition to advanced biofuels, which include next-generation ethanol from non-food based feedstocks, and we cannot allow Big Oil's forces to derail this progress.


Bradley Krohn, Ph.D, of Riverview is president of United States EnviroFuels, LLC, and manager of Highlands EnviroFuels, LLC. Editor's note: HB 4001 passed the Florida House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee by a vote of 7-6 last week, and SB 320 has been referred to Senate committees on communications, energy and public utilities, and environmental preservation and conservation, legislative records show.

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