About a week ago, President Trump went to Iowa and announced that he has directed the EPA to approve E15 fuel for year-round use. Most people won’t think twice about this change. In fact, most people probably don’t even know what E15 is. However, it offers some very significant changes to the gasoline most of you use every day. Some of the differences are very bad and potentially expensive for anyone that owns a piece of equipment with a gasoline burning engine.
First, let me explain what E15 is. The designation “E15” stands for 15% ethanol. Ethanol is essentially alcohol made from corn. Iowa is big on corn production. This is why E15 is such a big deal in Iowa and the Midwest. Our current gasoline standard in the United States is 10% ethanol. Moving to E15 would dilute the gas you buy with another 5% ethanol.
The EPA says that E15 can be used in:
- Flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs);
- Model year 2001 and newer cars;
- Model year 2001 and newer light-duty trucks; and
- Model year 2001 and newer medium-duty passenger vehicles (SUVs).
Frankly, whomever wrote that guideline at the EPA is either a moron or a liar. E15 CANNOT be used in all cars made since 2001 (well, actually you CAN use it if you don’t mind royally screwing up or even completely destroying your car’s engine. Case in point. My 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser says right on the gas cap NOT to use E15. But “how can this be?” you ask. Is the Federal Government lying to me? Or maybe it’s just that Toyota can’t figure out how to make good engines. Why would someone at the EPA make a statement like this if it can cause so much damage? Well frankly, by the time you figure it out and something goes wrong with your engine, most people will have forgotten the 15% ethanol increase back in October, 2018. And what are you going to do, sue the EPA?
Let’s take a closer look at what happens when you mix ethanol with gasoline and use that mixture in an internal combustion engine. At the most basic level, you are mixing two chemicals that each react differently when ignited. Ethanol tends to have less lubricating values, it tends to absorb water (a trait of alcohol), it burns “hotter,” creating a higher octane (i.e. it’s more combustible), and it acts as a very strong solvent. Damages that can result from these differences include things like valve damage from the higher heat, moisture damage (regular gasoline is NOT soluble in water), and the breakdown of hoses and gaskets made from rubber, plastic or anything non-metal, which can further damage your engine with the resulting “gum” or slag from the breakdown.
Simply put, ethanol is poison for your engine. Albeit small doses that can take weeks, months and years to do their damage. Think of it like drinking too much alcohol in your personal life. We all know that can lead to health problems over the long term. The difference here is that you may not have a choice. If most of the gas stations switch to 15% ethanol, you may not be able to easily find a healthier alternative. If you’re skeptical that ethanol is really that harmful, don’t take my word for it. Ask the people actually making your car. Back in 2010 most auto manufacturers sued the EPA to stop the approval of E15, citing the potential for engine damage.
Further, if E15 becomes the standard, where are you going to get fuel for your lawn mower, marine engine, motorcycle, weed eater… you get the picture.
So why would the EPA approve something like this if it’s so toxic for engines? If you haven’t figured that part out by now, let me say that a lot, and I mean A LOT, of businesses stand to make huge profits with the increased ethanol production. For starters, the Government is paying farmers to grow corn for fuel use (cha-ching). Then you have the auto parts manufacturers that will see increased sales in parts due to engine failures (cha-ching). Since the gasoline is diluted another 5% that’s less actual gas the fuel company has to produce to sell you a gallon (cha-ching). There is talk that ethanol creates less pollution, but only in a very myopic point of view. Burning it may create less toxic fumes, but how many more engine parts are going in the trash, fuel leaks created by the damaging properties of ethanol and we are also putting a much higher demand on mother earth to produce unnecessary corn, which means more farm equipment (most of which burns diesel) more delivery trucks (most of which burn diesel) and so on.
There’s also the component of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize (a fancy word that means “pay for”) the ethanol production. So you’re replacing jobs at a fuel company created by a free economy with taxpayer created farm jobs. You’re effectively trading cheaper gas prices for a higher tax to create it.
If you’ve come this far, you’re probably wondering what can be done to prevent the spread of E15. Unfortunately, it’s going to be an uphill battle. The lobby groups in Washington DC have already persuaded key policymakers to move forward. One thing you can easily do is to tweet your congressperson. Twitter tends to cut through a lot of the noise created by typical phone, mail and email channels. Tweet your Senator AND Representative and tell them you DO NOT want E15 fuel at the gas pump. Here is a page, with the template ready to tweet. You simply fill out your regional info and the correct Congresspersons are matched. Resistbot is another useful tool that will assist in looking up and contacting the appropriate elected officials for you, and they offer multiple ways of connecting in addition to Twitter (such as mail and fax). Finally, you can also contact the EPA here.
Even if you aren’t motivated to contact your elected representative, we hope you’ll remember to check the ethanol rating at the pump before you buy. And as always, we appreciate your direct support through our Patreon page.