The National Chicken Council and other food and agribusiness groups are opposing a drive by the ethanol industry to raise the percentage of ethanol that can legally be added to motor gasoline, a limit now set at 10 percent to protect engine performance and fuel mileage.
“Our organizations strongly oppose proposals to increase the level at which ethanol can be blended into motor gasoline, and we urge you to subject these proposals to the most careful analysis,” 10 associations said in a letter to Lisa Jackson, who took office recently as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In addition to NCC, groups signing the letter were American Bakers Association, American Beverage Association, American Frozen Food Institute, American Meat Institute, Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Turkey Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Restaurant Association, and the Snack Food Association.
Ethanol industry leaders, facing slumping demand for their product, are pressing the federal government to raise the 10-percent limit, first established in 1982. According to The Washington Times on February 4, 2009, “On Tuesday, ethanol industry representatives told reporters and editors of The Washington Times that they plan to lobby hard to expand that amount to as much as 15 percent.”
The 10 percent limit was originally set because EPA ruled that gasoline with that much ethanol was “substantially equivalent” to pure gasoline. To go beyond 10 percent, according to EPA, ethanol backers must prove that a fuel mixture with more ethanol (a form of alcohol) and less gasoline will not harm engine performance. The owner’s manuals of many makes of automobiles specifically warn drivers against using higher blends of ethanol because moisture attracted by the alcohol can harm components in the fuel system. Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., announced last month a recall of more than 200,000 luxury Lexus vehicles because “some ethanol fuels with a low moisture content may corrode the internal surface of the fuel delivery pipes,” the company said.
Ethanol also delivers less vehicle mileage per gallon, which is hardly noticeable at the 10 percent level but reaches a 30-percent loss in mileage for “E-85” fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that can be used in “flex-fuel” vehicles, according to the National Science Foundation.
In the letter to Ms. Jackson, the food and agribusiness groups said they support the development of fuels derived from “cellulosic” sources and other types of biofuels. But EPA should hold the line on ethanol added to motor fuel until the agency completes a lifecycle assessment of the impacts of biofuels on climate change, as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the letter said.
The federal Department of Energy (DOE) and EPA should also complete an assessment of the impacts of intermediate blends on engines and certify that there are no performance, safety, or environmental concerns with raising the 10 percent blend before authorizing such an increase, the letter said.
“As you know, a five-fold increase in the production of conventional biofuels since 2000 — in combination with other factors, such as rising energy prices, poor weather, and global demand — has contributed to volatile commodity prices and a sustained period of commodity and food inflation,” the food and agribusiness groups wrote. “Nearly one-third of the 2008 corn crop is being diverted from food and feed to fuel. Investing in cellulosic and advanced biofuels is one way the administration can help ensure that we are not pitting our energy security policies against our food and climate security policies. We urge you to oppose proposals to increase the amount of biofuel into our fuel supplies until critical studies are completed and sustainable alternatives are commercially available.”
The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce, process, and market chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.