The Corn Lobby Loses One . . . Maybe

30 Nov

by  • November 24, 2013

Every once in awhile, some good news.corn lead


The Environmental Protection Agency – usually strident, ideological and unreasonable – has suggested doing something reasonable: It has proposed reducing the total amount (and the percentage) of ethanol adulteration of gasoline.

Probably because it’s unavoidably necessary – to cover up a burgeoning debacle (think Obamacare and the delayed rollout of certain aspects of it).

Instead of 18.15 billion gallons of corn crap, just 15 or so billion gallons would be sloshed into our fuel tanks – and no more than 10 percent of the stuff per gallon of “gas,” which is the amount we currently have to accept. (See here for the news story).

As recently as last year, it seemed all-but-certain that EPA would mandate E15 – 15 percent ethanol. E85 (85 percent ethanol) was on deck.corn 2

But every now and then, reality intrudes and displaces the unicorn dreams of politicians and bureaucrats. The increasing dosage of ethanol in the nation’s fuel supply was causing several serious and all-too-obvious problems that could no longer be swept under the rug.

Firstly, even people who aren’t policy wonks or “car people” have noticed that a gallon of gas does not take them as far as it used to. Which stands to reason, because most of the “gas” out there is already up to 10 percent ethanol (E10), per EPA mandate. Since there is less energy in E10 than in unadulterated gas, it takes more E10 to drive a given distance, vs. the same volume of gasoline. The disparity is particularly obvious when one compares mileage using a tankful of E10 vs. a tank of straight gas – which is still available in many parts of the country if you look around a little bit (see here).

Less-energy ethanol is one of the chief reason why – despite numerous technological Great Leaps Forward such as direct-injection (fuel sprayed directly into the combustion chamber under extremely high pressure), eight-speed (and CVT and automated manual) transmissions, cylinder deactivation (a V-8 that runs on four cylinders when demand for power is light), Auto-Stop (the car’s computer turns off the engine automatically when the vehicle is not moving, then automatically restarts it when the driver pushes down on the accelerator) the fuel economy of new cars is not very spectacular. Especially when compared with the fuel economy achieved by cars built decades ago, which did not have the technological advantages of today – but did have the advantage of unadulterated fuel.corn 4

Thirty years ago, 40 MPG cars were common. Today, only a relative handful of cars hit that mark. A new (2014) Toyota Corolla, for instance, carries an EPA rating of 28 city, 37 highway. This is ok, but nothing much to write home about – in view of the fact that a 1985 Corolla rated nearly the same – 26 city and 33 highway (see here) – without the benefit of the technology advances of the ensuing 30 years. One of the reasons the ’14 and the ’85 are so close to one another, MPG-wise, is due to the fact that the ’14 is impaired by inferior (in terms of energy density) fuel. The EPA – which publishes fuel economy stats – tests new cars using E10, not straight gas.

Given that the efficiency reduction associated with burning E10 vs. pure gasoline seems to be in the neighborhood of 3-5 percent, the ’14 Corolla ought to be delivering better than 30 MPG in city driving – and at least 40 in the highway.

And would – if it were not fed crap corn gas. corn 3

People like me who raise chickens are also unhappy about the upticked cost of feed corn – which is due to the fact that a majority of the country’s total corn crop goes not to food for animals or humans, but to ethanol production.

The price of every commodity that is dependent on corn – from corn flakes to steaks – is higher for the simple reason that there’s less corn available. Supply and demand. Only in this case, it’s an artificial distortion of the market, with the agri-business cartels laughing all the way to the bank.  corn 5

But, they may have pushed too far, too fast. Subbing in E10 all at once was a mistake. The reduced mileage was immediately – and blatantly – obvious. So also the mechanical problems associated with alcohol-laced fuels – especially with regard to older cars that can’t self-adjust for the leaner (less energy) nature of alcohol fuels and so tend to run hotter, which causes them to wear out faster. Ditto outdoor power equipment – everything from chain saws to lawn mowers. And marine engines – which do not do well when the fuel is saturated with water. Alcohol attracts water.

These problems – widespread, obvious – can’t be flim-flammed into the memory hole.

If they’d been smarter, they’d have gone slower. Feed it to us gradually. Start with 2 or 3 percent ethanol instead of 10 – and increase that by 1 percent every five years. The alcohol-related wear and tear could be dismissed as age and use-related wear and tear. The older stuff would be discretely attrited out of existence, with only a few gearhead holdouts noticing anything amiss – much less being able to do anything about it. Few would notice a 1 percent reduction in fuel economy. Or even a 5 percent reduction  . . . over the course of 10 or 15 years. corn lastImprovements resulting from technology advances would mask a lot of that.

The corn lobby – which has been making billions off the legislated “demand” for its product – is not happy we’ve taken notice of The Great Corn Con. Much less that EPA has felt real pressure to ease off and at least keep the con at its current level of rapaciousness.

The corn kahunas will continue to extract billions from the hides of the American people, even so. But any reduction in rent seeking is seen by them as a mortal threat. Expect much hue and cry. And much agit-prop about “renewable” fuels – and “reducing dependence on foreign oil.” It’s a crock, all of it. They are squealing because their profits might be squeezed a little bit.

Assuming the dialing-back actually happens, a few more dollars will remain in our pockets rather than theirs.

That’s something.

But just imagine if we could cut the corn lobby loose for good. Get them out of our gas tanks – and wallets – completely. Overnight, our cost of living would go down noticeably. Our cars would go farther – and last longer. Everything from steaks to corn flakes would become suddenly more affordable.

And that would really be something.

Throw it in the Woods?

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