Oil and corn don't mix well, particularly in an election year, as was evidenced this month when the petroleum and ethanol industries came out swinging on the virtues and sins of the corn-based gasoline additive.

At issue was an academic study that concluded ethanol keeps a lid on the cost of gasoline and another report warning the plan to increase the ethanol content of gasoline to 15 percent -- a blend known as E15 -- could put motorists on the road to some expensive engine repairs due to its chemical makeup.

The reports provided fresh fuel for the simmering debate over the future of the federal government's tax and regulatory support for ethanol. The federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates the amount of ethanol that must be used to cut the U.S. gasoline supply, expires next year and will be replaced with a new version.

The outbreak of back-and-forth vitriol this month may not be a deliberate attempt to muddy the politically charged debate over ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard, but it will no doubt be a basis of future hearings and negotiations in Washington where the farm and oil lobbies have been known to have a degree of clout.

The Renewable Fuel Standard is championed by the ethanol industry because it requires the oil industry to buy its product. The oil industry, however, would prefer that ethanol survive on its own merits.

"The best products always come out on top when consumers are allowed to make purchasing choices in the free market," said Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. "If ethanol and other biofuels are such superior products, producers should join petroleum refiners in calling for an end to the Renewable Fuel Standard."

Consumers might lean toward ethanol if they were to read the report that came out of two Corn Belt universities. The study by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development concluded ethanol indeed does keep the cost of gasoline down. The current 10 percent ethanol blend, known as E10, kept pump prices down by $1.09 per gallon last year, according to the analysis.

"Because ethanol makes up 10 percent of our gasoline pool today, it significantly reduces demand for oil and puts downward pressure on gas prices," RFA President Bob Dineen concluded. "Ethanol is helping save consumers money."

But the AFPM wasn't buying the dramatic conclusions of the CARD researchers, who are based out of the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University. Drevna pointed out ethanol contains less energy than straight gasoline alone, which means motorists get fewer miles per gallon when more ethanol is added and therefore must fill up more often.

Another study with which the AFPM was impressed came out of the Coordinating Research Council, a non-profit engineering institute backed by the oil and auto industries. The report concluded moving the Renewable Fuel Standard from E10 fuel to an E15 could raise havoc with older engines due to the separation of water from gasoline caused by ethanol.

"Based on this new evidence, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson should reconsider her decision to allow the use of 15 percent ethanol blends in the nation's gasoline supply," said Drevna, who then added a zinger, "No one should be asked to … become a participant in a giant science experiment to line the coffers of agribusinesses while overlooking the real-world implications of E15."

It was now ethanol's turn to chide the quality of research. The RFA said E15 had been thoroughly vetted by the federal government, and the CRC report was something out of left field.

"After 6 million miles and years of testing, the Department of Energy found no problems with the use of E15 in vehicles made since model year 2001," Dineen stated. "The results of this study are meaningless and only serve to further muddy the waters."

source: upi

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