ATURKEY FARMER, AN ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST, and a boater walk into a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill. That may sound like a joke in the making, but it actually describes a few of the diverse witnesses who marched up to a hearing on a hot, muggy June 5 to tell Congress that a once well-intentioned
national fuel policy has outlived its usefulness. Add to this unlikely group a
motorcyclist, a gasoline refiner, and a classic-car collector, and you start to put a
new face on the nation’s renewable fuel debate.
Back in 2005, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as part of a sweeping
energy package designed to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil by blending
more homegrown renewable fuel in our gasoline. The RFS is the formula
that mandates the annual volume of renewable fuels refiners must blend
into the nation’s fuel supply, most significantly into gasoline. Ethanol, a
corn-based fuel, grew to have the lion’s share of the renewable market
and currently 90 percent of the nation’s gasoline contains 10 percent
ethanol. Although the transition to this fuel was rocky for boaters,
motorcyclists, snowmobilers, and other small-engine owners, most
of the public adapted. But today the country is using less gasoline,
and there’s a different transition approaching, one that may prove
too much for our shrinking fuel supply to bear.
A GOOD LAW, FOR YESTERDAY
Congress pops the hood on America’s fuel policy and finds there’s
work to be done, especially on E15
“It’s ironic to think that fuel efficiency is
part of the problem,” said BoatU.S. President
Margaret Podlich. “But the combination of
more stringent fuel-efficiency standards, a
recession, and the growing American concern
about fuel usage has decreased the amount
of fuel we use. That’s a good thing. But with
the country as a whole becoming more fuel
efficient, it means there’s less gasoline to
mix with increasing volume requirements
of renewable fuel.” According to the U.S.
Energy Information Administration (EIA),
gasoline consumption peaked in 2007, and
has been on a slight decline ever since.
“When you no longer can add more ethanol
to gas at a safe level for the public, you run
right into the ‘blend wall,’” added Podlich.
Boaters may think that the RFS and so-called
blend wall don’t really affect their favorite
pastime, but an odd set of factors are aligning to create a hurdle in America’s fuel policy
that could hit boaters square in the wallets.
E15, THE STRAW THE
In 2010, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) approved the debut of a fuel
that contains 15 percent ethanol. Under the
EPA’s own regulations, it can’t be used in
boats, motorcycles, lawnmowers,
or cars built before 2001, and it
will void some newer car warran-ties. According to the National
Marine Manufacturers Association
(NMMA), there isn’t one marine
AFFAIRS BoatU.S. SPECIAL REPORT BY NICOLE PALYA WOOD
The current EPA label for
E15 prohibits use in boats.
Gas consumption has
been on a slight decline