Alex Bluestone
My father founded and ran several area gas stations until his death. At first, he embraced the use of oil and gas mandates like those that regulate the ethanol industry — he saw ethanol as a possible revenue stream. However, optimism dwindled as each fall’s harvest brought bushels of despair, not what others had promised. He would one day realize the strife that comes with perverse government regulations.

Many have regarded ethanol to be the proverbial "fuel of the future," claiming that it reduces the cost of gasoline at the pump while also emitting less pollution. Although ethanol can replace gasoline in some ways, it is less beneficial than many expect.

The Department of Energy began releasing data in 1997 determining that some of the benefits derived from ethanol don’t outweigh the costs, as researchers had previously believed. Ethanol may emit less pollution when burned in place of gasoline, but the Environmental Protection Agency reports that it releases carcinogens at far higher levels than they predicted when it's created.

Despite the abundance of new testimonies and information, however, both the federal and state government continue to support ethanol ardently, as our country’s energy messiah.

Pointing to often-circulated claims of environmental friendliness and cost-effectiveness, Rep. John Shimkus from Illinois recently introduced new legislation that would impose further government mandates for the production of ethanol. Amid another distressing year for Detroit, this governmental decree would require that 50 percent of all new automobiles be capable of running on ethanol and other non-petroleum fuels by 2014. That number would stiffly rise to 95 percent just three years later.

So, do the advantages of ethanol outweigh the costs? The answer, simply, is no. Aside from its counterproductive environmental effects and proven efficiency loss for each mile to the gallon, ethanol is a precarious investment for the government to force on us for several reasons:
  • First, it has been shown that increases in ethanol production are correlated with an increase in food prices. These effects can be felt not only statewide, but also nationally and internationally.

  • Second, and as a direct result of government mandates, a cloud of pseudo–market demand now hangs heavily above the heartland. Simply put, the current supply/demand ratio did not arise naturally from the decisions of producers and consumers, interacting voluntarily in the market. Instead, the ethanol industry is artificially bolstered by government sanctions.

  • Finally, both this mandate and others like it point to the essence of how government controls harm the economy. There are too many hands in the cookie jar, and, as a result, everyone’s hand gets stuck; the cookie crumbles. Automakers should not be burdened with absurd requirements such as this from legislators who seek to alter the free market for the sole benefit of their constituents, and at the expense of everyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the development of renewable energies and green solutions. Markets reward efficiency. However, as both a Missouri resident and an owner of my father’s businesses, I find that legislation like our own E-10 mandate and the proposal advanced by Rep. Shimkus in Illinois are harmful — especially in the long run.

Neither supply nor demand would exist at anywhere near current levels without both federal and state mandates, both of which have propelled ethanol into the forefront of the American auto and oil industries. As it stands, the eagerly pushed supply of ethanol more than satisfies current market demand. And that, folks, is just basic economic principle.


About the Author

Alex Bluestone