California association refuses E85 funds

By Luke Geiver | January 04, 2010
Posted Feb. 8, 2010

The Southern California Association of Governments declined an $11 million federal grant aimed at expanding ethanol fueling stations. The federal stimulus money was intended for 55 new ethanol fuel stations but SCAG referred to concerns ranging from environmental issues to grant application procedure as reasons for refusing the grant. The project, initially approved by the regional governments association in November, was sponsored by the DOE. Now, after receiving additional time to reconsider and discuss the project, SCAG has made it official. "We're saying no to money from Washington," said Thomas Buckley, a representative from Lake Elsinore. "It probably doesn't happen too often."

Many opposed to the grants felt the environmental concerns raised with ethanol based fuel to be too severe. Keith Millhouse, a representative of Moorpark, compared policy to reduce dependence on foreign oil by using corn based ethanol blends with another preventative measure, "If we could prevent forest fires that's a good thing. However, preventing forest fires by cutting down every tree in the forest might not be the way to accomplish that." Along with Millhouse, Debbie Cook, a former representative committee member strongly spoke out against the policy for ethanol blended fuels during the Feb. 4 session. "You have to consider carbon emissions in your land use, you have to consider everything. That is something that has not been done by the boosters of ethanol."

Clean Fuels officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District Paul Wuebben however, spoke in support of accepting the grant, urging SCAG to reconsider. "Its (ethanol's) wider use would reduce dependence on gasoline and remove pollutants from the air," Weubben said. Noting the "major lost opportunity for the region," Wuebben also stated that the development of these proposed fuel stations would help create needed infrastructure for future fuels made from feedstock other than corn. Part of the decision to refuse the funds was based on corn as feedstock to make ethanol and according to Cook, "Cellulosic ethanol, we don't even know if that will be even remotely possible."

In response to Cook, Henry Hogo, the assistant deputy executive officer at AQMP, stated that they do consider everything in their research. "We have no bias to any fuel as long as it improves air quality," Hogo said. "Ethanol in terms of E85, we feel there are benefits to Southern California and the environment."

Mike Lewis, chief of Pearson Fuels, spoke in favor of accepting the funds as well. According to Pearson, the project would have created 221 jobs, but now the fueling stations will not happen without the grants. Lewis described to council members that the blending pumps would help to remove GHG's and eliminate petroleum.

Cook also noted the difficulties of understanding the issue and forming policy regarding the benefits of ethanol blending terminals in California. "We make amazing assumptions about areas we are really not well informed on," she said. "We understand things a mile wide and an inch deep. We can't possibly know the critical questions that need to be asked."