Your tax dollars at work: ethanol pumps for all my friends!

Say, would you like to get your hands on a piece of three million dollars in “free” money that Uncle Sam is giving away? Well, if you happen to live in Missouri and own (or want to open) a gas station, you may be in luck. The Obama administration has approved another grant for such businesses to purchase brand new mixed blend “flex fuel” (read: ethanol) pumps so concerned drivers can save the planet. What a country! (Columbia Tribune)

Missouri fuel retailers will be able to apply for money to install extra biofuel pumps from a $3 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, Gov. Jay Nixon said in a news release.

The money will pay for up to 171 new pumps capable of delivering as much as 4.9 million gallons of ethanol-based fuel annually to customers, Nixon said.

MFA Oil, HyVee, Kum & Go, and Prairie Land FS joined with the Missouri Department of Agriculture to make the grant application, department spokeswoman Sarah Alsager wrote in an email. Competition for at least a portion of the money is open to all retailers, Alsager wrote.

Well that’s downright generous of the feds, isn’t it? But we’re talking about gas for your car, right? Why do we need all these fancy new pumps? Popular Mechanics explained this when the debate was first raging quite a few years ago. These pumps are designed to handle fuel mixes all the way up to E-85 (which is 85% ethanol) but there have been problems with much lower percentage blends, including E-15 and even E-10 depending on how old your car or your pumping equipment is. Ethanol is more caustic than gasoline when it comes in contact with rubber seals and other components and some of the first stations to begin pumping the stuff with standard equipment saw their pumps failing far faster and even ran into containment problems with their storage tanks. (We’ll leave aside for today the damage it was doing to older cars.)

Also, water build-up is a big issue for gas stations. Water accumulating on any metal components is a problem whether it’s in the tanks and pumps or in your car. Here’s an often overlooked fact: alcohol mixes very well with and absorbs water. Gasoline doesn’t. So when it’s not stored properly or exposed to open air, the ethanol can soak up water which then condenses back out either in the pump or in your car. So if you’re going to pump the stuff you’ll want to have one of these fancy new pumps.

But do people really want this? There are eight times as many gas stations in the country offering only ethanol free gas as there are stations with flex fuel pumps. And that’s for a reason… people in the private sector invest in what people want and are willing to spend money on. The demand for ethanol free gas is a lot higher, hence the lack of these ethanol pumps. But since the government knows what’s best for you, they’ll make sure the corn fuel pumps get out into the market… and they’ll use your tax dollars to do it. In fact, back in May the President vowed to spend $100M on these pumps.

Their generosity with your money is heartwarming indeed.

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