51 thoughts on “E85

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Sure, laugh all you want, the self-aggrandizing and self-righteous of you who would find amusement in train wrecks and anyone less blessed than “I”. Here we have epitomized in forty-eight seconds God’s cruel sense of humor–physical perfection deprived of a brain. A tragedy of classical proportion.

  1. PM says:

    E85? Isn’t that some sort of boondoggle? Or was it more like Abscam, where legislators got caught accepting bribes? Hold it–it has something to do with Toyota cars, right?

  2. stpaulboy says:

    It’s not complicated. But why even ask? What about it? The “E” refers to ethanol. The 85 refers to the percentage of it in a gallon of “flex fuel,” the remaining 15% is gasoline. It’s sold at certain stations and works only in flex fuel equipped vehicles. So what?

  3. I would say that “stpaulboy” wins the cigar — but I work for the American Lung Association in Minnesota. But he is right. E85 is sold at more than 350 retail outlets in the state, making Minnesota the “E85 Capitol of North America.” There are an estimated 225,000 flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road right now in the state that can use this fuel, which is cleaner-buring than gasoline.

  4. Newt says:

    E85 is derived from a production process which pollutes the air and water, depletes ground water, and raises crop prices.

    E85 is financially unsustainable so it requires taxpayer subsidies and it harms most combustion engines and pollutes the air a little less.

      1. Ellen Mrja says:

        OMG! Me, as well and such as the girl above would probably say if in America everybody had maps and we could help places like Africa and Iraq and such.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Newt, are you an enviro, or are you just jerking the enviros’ chains? Just curious. The subsidy concern you voice fits with the economic libertarian philosophy we hear from you a lot, but I wondered if the environmental argument you make here is heartfelt.

  5. stpaulboy says:

    All points raised by Newt, Ellen, PM are completely legit.

    So then ask the question in a more nuanced and straight forward manner that gets at the candidate’s thoughts on energy policy, farm subsidies, etc. than as a smirking inside-joke, “homo-says-what?” style of gotcha’ question. This is an example of how the media needlessly alienate themselves from just about all concerned with their own internecine bullshit.

    Which returns circles back to Outtake at the Capitol: Kids, why do want to hang so closely with that crowd? Next thing you know, you’ll start behaving in just this annoying manner,

  6. Joe Loveland says:

    Yes, ethanol has challenges to overcome. But to be fair, don’t you have to ask the question “compared to what?”

    Everything is relative, and you have to compare ethanol to the major current alternative for fueling today’s cars — gasoline. Gasoline also is heavily subsidized, and it pollutes the air more, pollutes the water more, is not renewable like ethanol and, unlike ethanol, increasingly comes from unstable and hostile nations.

    If you were comparing E85 to cars run on water/hydrogen, your arguments would be very strong indeed. But right now, we have gas powered cars, and gasoline has bigger economic, national security and environmental problems than ethanol.

    P.S. Re: Oil subsidies, see stats in an earlier post, “Hidden Subsidies.”

    1. PM says:

      yeah, Joe, you are right, there are subsidies everywhere, and they are all bad. But if you believe that, then it is ALWAYS better to oppose new ones, and it NEVER makes sense to support new ones because you are just trying to equalize them out or some other such nonsense.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “…it is ALWAYS better to oppose new ones, and it NEVER makes sense to support new ones”

        I rarely disagree with you PM, but I do here. The decision of whether to subsidize something should be based on seniority? First come, first served?

        I’d argue a more sane criteria for deciding what to subsidize would be “which subsidy recipient has a stronger cost-benefit ratio to offer society.” Ethanol’s got some things in the cost column, but it’s cost-benefit ratio is stronger than petroleum.

        The minute we have viable hydrogen or solar cars, ethanol has no argument. But in the age of gas-powered cars, it does.

      2. PM says:

        OK, I’ll try to be more clear–

        fewer subsidies are always better than more subsidies, and creating additional subsidies in order to correct for the inequities created by already existing subsidies ( or ‘level the playing field”) wi;ll only result in more and more subsidies.

        If there is an existing subsidy, the argument should be to remove it, and never to create another subsidy to equal things out.

        I am not making an argument for seniority, I am saying that you can’t fight subsidies with more subsidies. And it would be great if we could make every subsidy expire after a defined period of time–so that a subsidy was always and by definition temporary.

  7. Ethanol Fan says:

    Joe is absolutely right on the hidden subsidies of oil. Opponents of the homegrown fuel are also overlooking the ethanol industry’s significant economic impact. Check out a very recent study on the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), the most commonly noted ethanol “subsidy,” which details how VEETC’s return on investment is much higher than the cost of the benefit: http://www.ethanolrfa.org/objects/documents/2794/importance_of_veetc_to_economy.pdf.

    Just as Joe pointed out, ethanol is here now. Until we have another viable alternative to fossil fuel, it’s the best choice we have. And it’s rather shameful that MN policymakers (or wannabes) don’t have a firm grasp on the topic – MN has more E85 pumps than any other state in the nation.

  8. Joe Loveland says:

    PM, if it were politically feasible to successfully remove oil subsidies (and/or equalize the externalities through taxation), I’d be all for removing a commensurate amount of ethanol subsidies. No argument there.

    BUT if we cut ethanol subsidies and not oil subsidies, we would effectively be giving giving oil a big market advantage over ethanol, and I’m not sure that makes good policy sense.

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      Why not?

      Why create a new subsidy for something that would satisfy about 15 percent of our fuel needs if our entire grain harvest were converted to ethanol?

      Besides, as Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute wrote, the amount of grain needed to make enough ethanol to fill a 25 gallon SUV tank would feed a person for a full year.

      Ethanol is inefficient, expensive and it takes resources away from providing food to people. I think we can come up with better ideas.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “I think we can come up with better ideas.”

        I agree over the long run, but not today. What is the better idea that is available TODAY?

        Re: “Why not (give oil a big market advantage)?

        Because it pollutes more, causes more health problems, is subsidized more, and comes from unstable and hostile sources outside of our control.

        Re: “Why create something that would satisfy about 15% of our fuel needs… (max)”

        Because replacing 5% of oil reduces oil-related problems and vulnerabilities by 5%. I don’t ever hear anyone saying ethanol should or will become The Solution for vehicle fuels. If there is a mideast oil embargo tomorrow, that 5% would be pretty valuable in helping us through a national crisis.

      2. Mike Kennedy says:

        I don’t think it’s even feasible to replace 5 percent of energy supplies with ethanol. The amount of land it would take would be huge if all usable land would only supply 15 percent.

        Better check the facts on the difference in subsidies. When you take into account direct subsidies to ethanol producers, along with subsidies for corn itself (the most subsidized crop by far), I think you’ll find the economics of oil are better.

        Ethanol is a net energy loser when all inputs from production are calculated in. One study showed ethanol contains 76,000 BTUs per gallon while it takes 98,000 BTUs per gallon to produce it. Gas contains 116,000 BTUs per gallon and it takes 22,000 BTUs to produce it. And some scientists claim ethanol emits more pollutants into the air.

        There are other alternatives but not on the horizon. Because of its economics (oil costs about the same as it always has in real, inflation adjusted dollars), we are going to be dependent on fossil fuels for at least another 50 years according to many experts, including MIT.

        The security issue? We import about 12 to 15 percent of our oil from the Persian Gulf.

        What about nuclear power? It already is proven, has an existing infrastructure and could attract capital.

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: “What about nuclear?”

        To power a car? Near term?

        Re: “Energy efficiency.”

        Using ethanol — alcohol produced from corn or other plants — instead of gasoline is more energy-efficient than oil say researchers at the University of California, Berkeley

        In a study published in Friday’s issue of the journal Science, Berkeley scientists show that producing ethanol from corn uses much less petroleum than producing gasoline, though they concede that there is still great uncertainty about greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental effects like soil erosion. Nevertheless the research suggests that at minimum, ethanol is a good substitute for gasoline and thus can help lessen the country’s reliance on imported oil. The study undermines critics who say that the push for ethanol is based solely on intense lobbying by the farm industry.

        “It is better to use various inputs to grow corn and make ethanol and use that in your cars than it is to use the gasoline and fossil fuels directly,” said Dan Kammen, one of the lead authors of the study.

        The people who are saying ethanol is bad are just plain wrong,” he continued. “But it isn’t a huge victory – you wouldn’t go out and rebuild our economy around corn-based ethanol.”

        Kammen says that despite the uncertainty, it appears that ethanol made from corn is a little better – maybe 10 or 15 percent – than gasoline in terms of greenhouse gas production, but the transition could be worth it if the ethanol is produced not from corn but from cellulose derived from woody, fibrous plants.

        Re: Susidies

        From an earlier post:

        According to the National Academy of Sciences, the health cost of coal and oil use is about $120 billion per year. Taxpayers pay a decent chunk of that cost. Taxpayers also pay the cost of military presence and wars necessary to get oil out of the Middle East, which the subsidy-hating CATO Institute estimated to be about $30 to $60 billion per year through the 1990s (pre-Iraq war, and many consider that war to be totally to partially about protecting oil supplies). Other estimates, that include the cost of the Strategic Oil Reserve and other government supports put the non-health cost at up to $158 billion per year.

      4. Joe Loveland says:

        I understand your point about direct subsidies, and it is valid. But my biggest argument that I’d ask you to consider is that oil subsidies go way beyond direct subsidies.

        If one fuel routine spills in the oceans and I have to pay for the pollution clean-ups, then that counts as a huge taxpayer subsidy of that fuel. If one fuel causes more air pollution and I have to pay for the pollution prevention and mitigation programs and equipment, then that is a huge taxpayer subsidy of that fuel. If one fuel causes of trillions dollars worth of wars and military escorts and I have to pay for them, then that is a huge, multi-trillion dollar taxpayer subsidy of that fuel. That fuel absolutely is not standing on its own subsidy-free.

  9. john sherman says:

    Something I’m curious about is the variation in prices among gas, E85 and diesel. I notice casually that sometimes E85 is a buck cheaper than gas and sometimes (currently) 60 cents; diesel variation is even more astonishing; the range v. gas seems to be somewhere around a buck and a half. I’m deeply suspicious of the changes in gas prices, but E85 and diesel are even stranger.

  10. If this “I don’t know what E85 is” thing happens one more time, I might have to give up the hope I hold for our society. Seriously, people.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Isn’t it remarkable?

      First, it’s a fair question. Ethanol is a big issue in this state.

      Second, its a wholly predictable question. Even if this weren’t an unfair question, what kind of politician (and staffer) doesn’t prepare for it when it is so clear it is coming?

      1. PM says:

        I suppose that that is the one reason to ask the question–if you flunk it shows what a total nincompoop you are (or, in the case of Judi Dutcher, what a total nincompoop Mike Hatch was)

  11. PM says:

    “Increasing energy use, climate change, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels make switching to low-carbon fuels a high priority. Biofuels are a potential low-carbon energy source, but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. In contrast, biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages.”

    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1152747

    A peer reviewed article from scientists at the U of Mn and the Nature Conservancy

    Obviously, all biofuels are not alike, and ethanol has a real problem here, especially if we are taking fallow land out of production, which obviously has to be done (unless we are all going to eat less…)

    the unintended consequences of E85 can obviously be tremendous.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      This is an important concern, but it argues for limiting the amount of ethanol incentives and production, not eliminating ethanol incentives and production. If we set ethanol goals and corresponding incentives too aggressively, yes, we will convert too much fallow land to farmland and run into fuel v. food problems. But if we keep production levels reasonable, we won’t run into those kinds of problems.

      Friends, we don’t have to reject every alternative energy source just because it can’t become the dominant new energy source, the new petroleum. Until a panacea energy source emerges, the fact is we Earthlings are going to need to piece together a half dozen or more alternative energy sources to diversify our energy portfolio, and right now there is no reason why ethanol shouldn’t be one of the puzzle pieces. I do agree ethanol shouldn’t be and can’t be “the new petroleum.” But it can be what it is right now, a nice little piece of the overall puzzle, like solar, geothermal, batteries, and other sources.

      I drive two hybrids (not simultaneously), and that isn’t The One Solution either. But, like a right-sized ethanol industry, it’s one reasonable way to make our overall energy portolio a bit more efficient, renewable, domestic and clean.

  12. Re: john sherman’s question on E85 pricing, the simplified answer is the price of E85 at any given retail outlet depends on where they are buying the fuel, how much they sell in a year, etc. Some large retailers (like Holiday) have worked out long-term deals with suppliers and sell enough E85 to consistantly price it 40 cents less per gallon (or better) than regular unleaded. Retailers who buy E85 on the spot market have more volitility in their prices. See http://www.CleanAirChoice.org for an E85 price forum whwere you can get the best deals.

    1. john sherman says:

      I was just down in SD and saw the price at something like 60 cents lower in Aberdeen. However, what really puzzles me is diesel, and that is important because of trucks, trains, etc. using diesel, so comparatively small shifts in price have extreme economic consequences. Since gasoline and diesel come from the same source, it seems to me that the wild swings in price are the result of manipulation.

  13. Okay…so now I’m covered. When the E85 question comes to me or my Lt Gov candidate, I’ll just link them to this discussion and tell them that half of my friends support E85 and half of my friends oppose E85 and I ALWAYS agree with my friends.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Ok Tom (Independence Party candidate for Governor this year), now you did it. Support or oppose the current level of federal and state ethanol subsidies?

  14. stpaulboy says:

    Can I assume that everyone here sickened by the idea of the government providing subsidies and other forms of incentives to influence business and consumer behavior would be in full-throated support of repealing the mortgage interest deduction on their taxes?

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I want anyone who can produce clean, renewable and domestically produced energy source that can reduce petroleum externalities to get a subsidy before I as a homeowner do. And I used my entire throat in that proclamation.

    2. PM says:

      Absolutely YES. I think that the mortgage tax deduction is significantly responsible for the housing implosion–a subsidy that led to a significant overbuilding of the housing market, and the resulting economic mess we are in.

  15. stpaulboy says:

    Thx, Joe, but I didn’t get the impression you were steadfastly, philosophically, adamantly opposed to subsidies of any description.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Very true. I’m for subsidies when they reward individuals and institutions that engage in socially desireable behavior (e.g. keeping the planet clean, keeping my kids’ out of wars, keeping our economy competitive globally, buying a home and consequently establishing an equity stake in solid communities, etc.). I probably am not the dog whose chain you intended to jerk.

    2. PM says:

      one of the few tax deductions that i am very much in favor of keeping is for charitable contributions. And, yes, of course, every tax deduction is a subsidy. I am not automatically opposed to every subsidy–but I think that there are too many right now, and that the assumptions should always be against subsidies.

  16. John, the deal on diesel prices is this: our limited # of redineries can be optimized to make diesel fuel, or aviation fuel, or gasoline. Since most vehicles in US use gasoline, that gets priority. Scarcity drives up prices.

  17. Never let it be said that I can’t answer questions at least as well as Miss South Carolina! I think we should be doing three things:
    Invest in the research to create new energy technologies through the U of M and other institutions.
    Reform the tax code to create more capital for start-ups and more incentives for angel investors (and, yes, reducing these taxes — and the scope of the budget shortfalls — will require increases in other taxes).
    And, provide subsidies to promising energy sources, but only in the start-up phases, not in perpetuity. Every subsidy should be supported by a realistic, market-based business plan that details the length of time a subsidy will be needed — private investors expect nothing less, why should taxpayers get anything less?

  18. Joe Loveland says:

    With this news, is there another E85 victim on the horizon…?

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Democrat Matt Entenza announced former TV anchor Robyne Robinson will be his running mate in the governor’s race.

    Entenza broke the news on his Twitter page Thursday morning right before holding a news conference at the Capitol.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I’ll get back to you, said Robinson, in answer to what is by now the most predictable question any MN lt. governor candidate will ever receive:

      E85, for the record, is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Minnesota leads the country in its use and state laws encourage ethanol production.

      That is just how DFL candidate Matt Entenza’s running mate defined E85. However, Robyne Robinson deflected further questions on the subject “to another day.”

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