By Shirley Ball
My Opinion 

Ethanol Is Not A Dirty Word


I recently heard radio advertisements promoting “no ethanol in our gas.” I wonder if the sponsors of the advertisements understand the implications of that message? I realize that not everyone understands the nuances of that message, so I would like to share my thoughts.

What does “no ethanol” in our gas really mean? First, consumers should understand that gasoline is made from many petrochemical components produced during the refining of crude oil into gasoline. Some of these compounds are are added to increase octane. They include toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene and xylene. These odd sounding chemicals are not benign. Benzene for example is a cancer causing chemical. Benzene is intentionally use as a gasoline component at levels known to pose a health threat. Consumers are exposed to benzene when fueling a vehicle. The exposure comes via fumes and direct contact with gasoline. In addition, vehicle exhaust contains measurable levels of benzene and other toxic compounds. Exposure to gasoline emissions can make asthma and other lung problems worse. Some gas compounds are directly linked to high rates of autism.

Many years ago, a number of cities changed to oxygenated fuel to help improve the air quality in their cities. Ethanol is an oxygenated fuel that quickly proved an ability to significantly reduce the carbon monoxide and toxicity levels of gasoline while reducing the cost of gasoline. Fuels containing ethanol reduce the toxicity of exhaust emissions while lowering the cost of the fuel to which it is added. After 25 years, ethanol is the only oxygenated fuel used in pollution mitigation programs in the United States. Ethanol is a proven performer in helping to mitigate transportation related air pollution.

Another message conveyed by the “no-ethanol” advertisements is that the station does not support ethanol. That message makes no sense. Ethanol is produced from our indigenous farm products. It is produced at bio-refineries located in nearly 200 American towns and cities by U.S. workers. Why would anyone attack a commodity that has such a positive impact on local and national economies? The biofuels sector generates hundreds of thousands of jobs across many sectors. To disparage ethanol is to insult and undermine farmers and workers who produce a value added product that is important to our economy, our environment and our health.

Ethanol is a proven fuel. It has been used as an octane enhancer in gasoline for a hundred years. NASCAR race cars are fueled by ethanol fuels because the fuel is less expensive than racing fuel. It burns cleaner and it performs!

So how important is ethanol to our communities and our country? As consumers, don’t we want a lower cost fuel option that burns cleaner and creates a host of jobs in the agriculture sector and beyond? Don’t fuel sellers want to support local farmers and workers who contribute to the economy in many ways? In Montana, where there is little corn produced, you might wonder why ethanol is important to a wheat or barley farmer. If you are a long time farmer, you remember the years when grain sold at less than the cost of production. One of the reasons I became an ethanol advocate back in the 1970s was to find new markets for our products. Ethanol fuel created a demand for corn, and the demand for corn brought up the price. Luckily for us wheat farmers in Montana, it also pulled along the price of wheat. Profit is not always the norm for agriculture and when there is a profit, it is shared in the community. Farmers have had dollars to spend on upgrading machinery, vehicles, and home improvements as a result of a more robust economy supported by ethanol production. Ask the local accountant, the machinery dealers and the farmers if higher commodity prices are better than break even prices. The message in the ad does not support agriculture. Is that the message fuel vendors want to send?

This is a challenging period for the ethanol industry as we wait for the EPA to make a ruling on the Renewable Fuel Standard. It is not helpful to have fuel vendors undermining the ethanol industry at any time. The current “no-ethanol” messages work against those who are concerned about domestic jobs, the economic health of the agricultural sector, public health and the environment.

Anti-ethanol advertisements support the agenda of Big Oil. Yes, the international companies with the huge profits, the ones who are now crying about the lower price for oil. Yes, there is oil production in the United States. We need to look at the associated costs, including the pollution associated with domestic oil exploration and degradation of the land. I realize we need energy for transportation. We are never going to give up our “wheels.” Oil will be in our future. However, clean, renewable alternatives can and should be part of our future.

So please reconsider your support of Big Oil at the expense of American farmers, workers, the environment and public health. I realize fuel vendors have to deal with oil companies to stay in business. And I understand oil companies do NOT like competition, even at only 10 percent. However, I urge you to think about the impact of the message that you are sending in the anti-ethanol advertisements.

Shirley Ball of rural Nashua is board chairwoman of the Ethanol Producers and Consumers organization, which has members in 26 states and four countries.


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