Florida State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) will introduce legislation this year to repeal a state law requiring Florida service stations to sell only ethanol-blended gasoline. Energy experts say ethanol requirements raise transportation fuel costs, hike food prices, decrease gasoline mileage, and harm the environment in many ways.
Powerful Opposition Fading Away
During the 2012 legislative session, Gaetz sponsored legislation to repeal the 2008 Renewable Fuel Standard Act and its ethanol mandate. However, Adam Putnam, the state’s powerful Republican Agriculture Commissioner who political analysts expect to run for governor at the end of Gov. Rick Scott’s term, opposed repealing the ethanol mandate. Most Republicans in the legislature fell in line behind Putnam.
At a recent talk before the Okaloosa League of Women Voters, Gaetz said Putnam indicated he would not stand in the way of repealing the ethanol mandate in 2013.
“Last year Commissioner Putnam’s opposition was a major hurdle for us,” Gaetz told the League of Women Voters.
Putnam dropped his opposition after BP changed its mind and decided not to build an ethanol refining plant in Central Florida.
“They’ve decided ethanol production in Florida is not viable,” Gaetz reported.
Gaetz said ethanol mandates are merely a “feel-good attempt to use alternative energy” that ultimately hurt consumers. A newly published study by FarmEcon LLC, an agriculture and food industry consulting firm, agrees.
According to the study, which utilized data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ethanol subsidies and mandates have caused a dramatic rise in U.S. food prices since 2005, reversing 50 years of declining food prices.
Since 2006, due in part to ethanol subsidies and mandates, food prices have sharply risen, as ethanol diverts 44 percent of the nation’s corn crop away from the food supply. A typical family of four pays $2,055 more in food bills than would be the case without the ongoing ethanol subsidies and mandates, the study found.
Energy economists also note ethanol delivers one-third less mileage than gasoline and is more expensive to produce. Taxpayer subsidies often allow ethanol producers to sell ethanol at a modestly lower price than gasoline, but consumers still pay more for ethanol when taxpayer subsidies and comparable miles per gallon are factored in the equation.
Environmentalists report it requires three gallons of water to turn corn into one gallon of ethanol, and this is causing a strain on Corn Belt water supplies. Also, ethanol subsidies and mandates induce farmers to develop marginal cropland that otherwise would be left in a natural state. This has an additional impact on water supplies, as extensive irrigation is often necessary to make marginal cropland productive.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
“Food Costs Are Eating American Family Budgets,” FarmEcon LLC, http://news.heartland.org/sites/default/files/ethanol_study_farmecon_2012.pdf