Home > EDITORIAL > Editorially Speaking > Too much of a good thing

Too much of a good thing

By Terry Roorda

Let’s get one thing straight right up front: I love ethanol. Mankind in general loves ethanol. And that love affair has gone on for all of recorded history and probably a lot longer—which may explain why it took so long to start recording it. Mankind was hammered. Ethanol is the active ingredient in all potent potables, from fine wine to both the shot and the beer, and is the universal solvent for the blues, the blahs and the nagging existential angst. It’s a lubricant for the creative process that has been famously embraced by great thinkers and artists of every discipline, from Socrates to Filla, and has thus deeply enriched the human experience. What’s not to love?

So deep is my affection, in fact, that it would take a crisis of some great magnitude to get me to utter a bad word about the stuff, but that crisis is looming as we speak, and it goes by the name of E15. That’s a blend of gas pump fuel that replaces 15 percent of the gasoline with ethanol, and the push is on to get the EPA to mandate that ratio in the national fuel supply, even though we don’t yet fully understand the overall effects and impact of E10, the 10-percent blend currently mandated.

The push for E15 is coming, naturally, from the corn-based ethanol industry, the same folks who brought you E10. That industry (known as “Big Corn”) in concert with the political toadies in their pocket (a.k.a. “Big Corn-Holes”) have long waged an aggressive and astoundingly successful campaign to force ethanol down the bung holes of America, whether we like it or not, and to get filthy rich in the process. In addition to the aforementioned E10 mandate, they’ve also managed to secure protective tariffs against cheaper ethanol imports and, best of all—if you’re in the corn squeezing business, that is—they’ve scored a lollapalooza of taxpayer subsidies that, according to a report just released by the Congressional Budget Office, works out to a whopping $1.78 per gallon. Talk about thinking “green.”

The industry cloaks their money grab in grand eco-friendly terms, touting corn ethanol as “renewable” and “clean burning,” and thus, you’re led to believe, beneficial to the environment. But is it? According to a study by Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment conducted last year, the net effect of the production of corn ethanol is actually an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council—just the sort of environmental activist organization you’d expect to be on board with anything clean and renewable—characterized it thusly: “We are spending billions in scarce taxpayer dollars to prop up a decades-old corn ethanol industry and a mature, polluting technology—money that isn’t getting us where we need to go in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in many cases is setting us back.”

But that’s not what’s got me all riled up. Ethanol poses real risks to motorcycles, especially air-cooled bikes, and it brings no advantages whatsoever. It’s a more volatile and corrosive substance than gasoline, and has been shown to damage fuel system components. It’s also more water absorbent, and poses risks to any bike stored for any length of time with it in the tank. And worst of all, it burns hotter than gasoline and can lead to overheating in air-cooled engines—overheating that can damage components, shortening a motor’s life, and even causing catastrophic failure. At the same time, since ethanol blends contain less energy than straight gasoline, they reduce your vehicle’s fuel economy and range.

The push for even greater levels of corn ethanol in our gas began last year when industry lobbyists petitioned the EPA for a ruling to increase mandated ethanol content to 15 percent—the dreaded E15. The EPA had initially planned to rule on the matter by last December, but postponed that decision until mid-2010. Then in June, they postponed the decision once again, pointing out that insufficient research had been conducted on the potential deleterious effects of E15 on vehicle engines. They have stated, however, that after running tests on a relative handful of automobiles manufactured after 2001 they could find no problems resulting from the higher ethanol content. They make no such claim for motorcycles or vehicles made before 2001. That second delay brought an angry response from four Big Corn Senators, Grassley (R-Iowa), Thune (R-South Dakota), Johanns (R-Nebraska) and Bond (R-Missouri), who fired off a letter to the White House on June 23 demanding action.

And that, in turn, brought an angry response from the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, who along with the AMA has been opposed to any increase in ethanol content, for the very compelling reasons mentioned above. The MRF encourages all riders from the states mentioned to contact their Senators and insist on hard assurances that the increase in ethanol won’t harm their machines. They also encourage everyone to contact the White House and voice their concerns.

If you would prefer to express your concerns in a more personal fashion, however, you’ll have the opportunity to do just that at Sturgis this month where the ethanol industry lobbyist group, the Renewable Fuels Association, will maintain a high-profile presence as a sponsoring entity of the doings out at the Buffalo Chip campground. Under the banner of “Fueled with Pride,” the RFA will be hyping the beauty of ethanol. In the words of RFA spokesman Robert White, “It is important for these riders to know that ethanol-blended fuels are a safe and effective alternative to petroleum that they can use in their motorcycle engines, along with every other vehicle they have at home.”

I couldn’t agree more. It is important that we know that. The only problem is that we don’t. And neither does anyone else.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *