Missouri ethanol rule on track to take effect

Monday, March 3, 2014 | 7:33 a.m. CST; updated 11:42 a.m. CST, Monday, March 3, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri motorists could be able to buy a higher blend of ethanol gasoline as early as this summer because of a new policy pushed by Gov. Jay Nixon over the unsuccessful objections of some lawmakers.

The state has long been a leading promoter of ethanol, a corn-based fuel that is blended with regular petroleum gasoline. Missouri was among the first states in 2006 to mandate that most fuel contain 10 percent ethanol.

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An Associated Press special report from November examined the ecological impact of 'going green' and how ethanol production is reshaping the land of the Midwest.

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But the latest ethanol expansion, which allows gas stations to sell a 15 percent ethanol blend, has sparked debate because of the way it's being enacted. It's not required under a new law, as was the case with E10, but rather is the result of a Missouri Department of Agriculture rule change championed by Nixon.

In a written statement to The Associated Press, the governor said he's pleased the rule finally will be taking effect.

"Expanding the use of renewable fuels like E15 is a proven strategy for boosting our nation's energy independence and bringing more dollars back to farming communities across Missouri," Nixon said.

The price of E15 could be several cents a gallon cheaper than the E10 gasoline currently dispensed from most pumps. That could make it attractive to consumers. It also could increase the demand for corn, benefiting farmers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of E15 for most vehicle models from 2001 forward.

But not everyone agrees with Nixon about the benefits of E15. Many vehicle manufacturers warn that it could harm engines and void the warranties of vehicles not specifically designed to handle fuels with higher ethanol contents.

With that controversy as a backdrop, the legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted last October to temporarily block the implementation of Missouri's proposed rule allowing the sale of E15 gasoline. The committee said the rule went beyond what is allowed under the 2006 ethanol law.

On the same day the rule was blocked, the Missouri Corn Growers Association — which had supported the rule — sent a letter to the Agriculture Department asking it to withdraw the rule because of concerns over its legality. The letter, obtained under a Sunshine Law request by The Associated Press, said the corn association would instead work with legislators to try to pass an E15 law.

Over the past decade, legislators have voted to temporarily block 15 proposed rules. State agencies typically have responded by dropping or changing those proposed rules.

But Nixon directed his Agriculture Department to press forward with the proposed E15 rule.

To permanently stop the rule, the full legislature would need to pass a resolution by Monday. But that isn't going to happen, because the resolution never even made it out of a Senate committee. That means the ethanol rule will be back on track to take effect.

If the Agriculture Department acts quickly to publish the proposed rule, it could take effect as soon as May 30.

Missouri's roughly 3,800 gas stations then will have to choose whether to sell E15 gasoline. As of January, the fuel already was being sold in 59 gas stations in a dozen other states — mainly in Missouri's corn-growing neighbors of Iowa, Illinois, Kansas and Nebraska, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

MFA Oil, who runs about 80 convenience stores and 160 unattended fueling sites in Missouri, had lobbied in support of the E15 rule. When it takes effect, the company will seriously consider selling the fuel, said James Greer, MFA Oil's western regional vice president.

"E15 will create an economic engine for cheaper gasoline," Greer said.

But the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which opposed the E15 rule, is urging its members to be cautious. Among other things, the association cites concerns that gas station owners could be targeted with liability lawsuits by motorists who put E15 fuel into vehicles that subsequently suffer engine problems.

"Until some of those underlying issues are dealt with, I would dare say that the vast majority of my members will not be selling E15 in the near future," said association Executive Director Ron Leone.

State Sen. Eric Schmitt, who led the failed effort to block the E15 rule, said he hopes the Agriculture Department will later adopt additional rules regarding fuel-pump warning labels for consumers, safety measures for fuel storage tanks and perhaps some guidance for who is at fault if the use of E15 voids a vehicle warranty. He continues to believe the E15 rule is insufficient and improper.

"It creates an undue burden for drivers across the state who have vehicles that aren't ready for this yet," said Schmitt, R-Glendale.


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dan elliott March 3, 2014 | 1:14 p.m.

E15 cheaper per gallon but gets less mileage per gallon so cost per mile stays even. However, increased demand for corn will mean higher prices from meat to dairy to cereal and even soda (uses corn syrup). Furthermore, increased corn demand will cause more farming of marginal land increasing erosion and farm run chemical run off. So, you end up paying the same to run your car and paying more for fuel and harming our local environment. This is not a win for environmentalist, it is a win for special interest ethanol and corn producers. It is a loss for everyone else.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 3, 2014 | 1:36 p.m.

DanE: "This is not a win for environmentalist, it is a win for special interest ethanol and corn producers."

True enuf.

But, that's not how the environmentalists sold it...and sell it they did, although you won't find one that will admit it, hoping instead we will forget over time who started it all in the first place. I haven't forgotten and fully expect to be a "reminder" whenever the opportunity presents itself.

It's a classic case of ivory-tower environmentalists and green politicians not understanding unintended consequences, basic economics, or the full sequence of start-to-finish events.

The "biofuel solution" with things like switchgrass has many similar...pending...problems. We can take that issue up again in about 5-7 years once environmentalists abandon that particular issue.

And, of course, environmentalists not understand how many/much rare earth metals we throw away each year in the form of cell phones, never to be recovered?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 3, 2014 | 3:01 p.m.

I agree with both of you. When we start talking about employing marginal cropland I become very nervous: unlike most of today's readers I am old enough to have actually witnessed the Dust Bowl. It was pretty awful, even for those of us whose homes were simply on the downwind edges of it. (It created some absolutely spectacular red sunsets, but otherwise I can't recommend it.)

Since some of these petroleum substitutes have lower caloric value (unless chemically concentrated or altered into a product with higher caloric content), it takes larger amounts to perform the same task higher caloric value fuels (petroleum, coal) would give us. How does that reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

If we're going to bring marginal cropland into play, do we also intend to use even more artificial fertilizers?

It's aparently horrifying to "frack" (hydrofracture) but it's just peachy to create conditions for another Dust Bowl.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 3, 2014 | 5:29 p.m.

Ellis: "If we're going to bring marginal cropland into play, do we also intend to use even more artificial fertilizers?"


We don't need no stinkin' fertilizers!

Why, you can grow and grow and grow and harvest and harvest and harvest 'til the cows come home without harming the soil. Taking a crop from this place to that place takes nothing from the soil. After all, plants contain ONLY carbon and water, and NEITHER of them comes from the soil. They are "sky" thingies.


At least, that's all I can remember from HS biology since I really wasn't paying attention.

Just ask anyone growing tobacco in the 1700s and anyone cutting down Amazon rain forests right now! They will tell you "The soil lives forever. You may take what you wish. It cannot be exhausted. ESPECIALLY with something as sexy as...gasp...GREEN BIOMASS!"

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 3, 2014 | 9:00 p.m.


In certain parts of the world they fertilize crops with "brown biomass" (human waste). Those unfortunate enough to serve in Korea 1950-1952 found the odor unattractive. (Smelled like s***! Well, of course!)

If we care about the future (future generations) we need to do everything possible to preserve the arable land we have.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 3, 2014 | 10:51 p.m.

Ellis: Unfortunately, in the US (and other industrialized countries with large cities), use of sewage simply contaminates the soil with poisonous heavy metals. We don't separate the various types of crap.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 4, 2014 | 2:58 a.m.

If MFA puts E-15 in their pumps, they will have lost my business.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 4, 2014 | 7:17 a.m.

For the record, I have no problem with the CONCEPT of 10% (not 15%) ethanol as a gasoline additive. My ford sedan's engine was designed to run efficiently on that fuel mixture, and I've been consistently using it ever since it became available at service stations.

I just don't want to see ethanol feed stocks occupying acreage that needs to be producing crops for human and animal consumption, or trying to grow ethanol feedstock crops on marginal land.

Michael: Your point about industrial sewage is a good one. Also, I am fascinated by the concept of separating "various types of crap." By golly, I think we already have university level courses - majors, even - devoted entirely to "crap separation." We just give them different, more dignified, names. :)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams March 4, 2014 | 7:45 a.m.

Ellis: "On campus crap separation"

Well, THAT'S a point!

As far as EtOH goes, it's important folks remember the knuckleheads who started all this....with the premise you can take and take and take from soil to make a so-called neutral-carbon energy source, all the while not affecting the soil adversely. Such promotion is still happening today with other types of biomass (note: see UMC students). Switchgrass? Corn stover? Sure! Why not! It grows, we harvest, we grow more, we harvest more.....and wow there are NO other inputs we need to make! Carbon is the ONLY concern! Soil boron? Nah. Soil cobalt? We don't need no stinkin' cobalt! Sulfur? That's for volcanoes...not for switchgrass or any other biomass. The soil lives forever; erosion is the ONLY thing we need to worry about! It's a win-win for us and the world!

PS: Here's a short list of elements REMOVED from a field with each ton of a warm season grass like switchgrass that's burned in a city like Columbia:

Nitrogen: 35 lb
P2O5: 10 lb
K2O: 35 lb
Calcium: 10 lb
Magnesium: 5 lb
Sulfur: 3.5 lb.

To say nothing about the micronutrients like cobalt, selenium, boron, and the like.

How many years can you do this without replacement?

What is the source of the replacement elements, anyway? Do they just magically appear in a tidy bag at the local MFA, or did they have to be...gasp...mined and processed somewhere else not here?

(Report Comment)

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