Maine seeks to eliminate ethanol blending requirements

By Kris Bevill | June 10, 2011

Maine legislators recently passed a joint resolution to request that Congress consider exempting Maine from federal ethanol blending requirements, based on concerns over the use of E10 in small engines and watercraft. The State Senate unanimously passed the resolution on June 1, following its passage in the House by a vote of 92-56 on May 26.

The resolution was spurred by legislation introduced by Republican State Rep. Beth O’Connor, who characterized corn ethanol as “a colossal waste” and a “disaster” during remarks made on the House floor prior to the resolution’s passage. O’Connor, who is backed by the state’s Tea Party, blamed corn ethanol for everything from higher food prices to increased cases of asthma and chronic bronchitis during her remarks, which were credited for gaining the necessary approval of the majority of House members.”Few people are aware of how big the ethanol industry has grown in such a short period,” O’Connor said in her remarks. “Ethanol consumption of corn has soared from 1.6 billion bushels in 2006 to an anticipated 4.3 billion bushels this year. Corn grown for ethanol now occupies 10 percent of the total arable land in the country, and the powers that be in Washington want to increase the amount in our fuel from 10 percent to 15 percent.”

The Renewable Fuels Association responded by issuing a letter to members of the Maine legislature on June 9, correcting some of the misinformation presented by O’Connor during her remarks. “Unfortunately, many lawmakers in the Maine State Legislature were not presented with the accurate facts about ethanol production in the 21st century,” Matt Hartwig, RFA public affairs director, said in the letter. “These misrepresentations include ethanol’s energy balance, impact on food prices, benefits to the environment and usefulness in small and marine engine applications. … Put simply, the foundation of the resolution and many of the provisions contained therein are based on inaccurate information.”

Hartwig pointed out in the letter that ethanol-blended fuel has been in widespread use in Maine since 2007 and said E10 has been proven effective for use in every type of internal combustion engine, including lawnmowers and watercraft. He admitted there may be legitimate concerns regarding the use of E15 in small engines and watercraft, but reassured legislators that E15 use is not mandated and therefore does not have to be sold by retailers in Maine or any other state. The letter also referred legislators to recent USDA and U.S. DOE analysis that shows ethanol production has a positive energy balance and further stated that evidence has speculation and high energy prices have a much more significant impact on food prices than corn ethanol production. Hartwig also raised concerns regarding the legality of future actions by Maine to exempt itself from federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) requirements.

Maine’s joint resolution was passed just a few days after legislation was introduced at the federal level to also allow states to exempt themselves from the corn ethanol portion of the RFS. Introduced by long-time corn ethanol opponent Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the Fuel Feedstock Freedom Act was co-sponsored by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe. A statement released by Snowe indicates Maine’s aversion to corn ethanol may be driven somewhat by its lack of corn production. “While I strongly support cost-effective methods to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, our policies must reflect the practical geographical restrictions of federal corn-ethanol mandates as well as the opportunities for advanced biofuels,” she stated. “I appreciate [Sen.] Inhofe’s leadership in ensuring that the states are also involved in energy decisions that significantly affect fuel consumers throughout the country and I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve the Renewable Fuel Standard by passing this legislation into law.”