Trump's latest ethanol plan will flounder with boaters

As most of our readers already know, I’ve found plenty of policy work by the current White House administration to be satisfying. This has been true in terms of tax cuts (though we still need spending cuts), border security, support for law enforcement and rolling back crippling regulations, among other work being done. The one area where I’ve encountered some of my greatest disappointment with the Trump administration, however, is the President’s position on ethanol policy. I’ve written at length about the continuing problems with the Renewable Fuel Standard and the waivers the Trump EPA has offered to some refineries are, while welcome, a bandage instead of a cure. But now yet another change is on the horizon and it’s not going to be good.

According to this recent report from the Washington Examiner, during a speech in Iowa on Thursday, the President promised to extend the sale of E15 fuel (gas blended with 15% ethanol) year round. Currently, numerous problems with the fuel have led to regulations restricting sales during the summer without an EPA waiver. This has boaters and people in the marine manufacturing industry sending out the alarm because it’s simply bad policy.

The boating industry is raising the alarm over President Trump’s pledge to allow higher-level ethanol fuels to be sold year round, which the industry believes could place millions of consumers on the hook for expensive repairs.

“President Trump’s pledge to allow the year-round sale of E15 will needlessly put consumers in danger,” Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said in a statement Friday.

Trump told farmers in Iowa on Thursday that the administration is “getting very close” to approving a waiver to allow 15-percent ethanol fuel blends, or E15, to be sold year-round. Currently, the sale of the fuel is restricted during the summer months because of its high volatility. Sales after June 1 require a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The farmers want the waiver approval to increase the market for ethanol, especially as trade tensions with China threaten to block a massive export market for many of their other agricultural products.

These issues apply to various small engines, but they are of particular concern to boaters. And speaking as someone who both boats (for fishing) and has to mow his own lawn, I’ve run into them first hand. E-15 has more than just “volatility” problems in the summer months. While the ethanol industry continues to deny it, anyone who repairs and maintains small engines will tell you the real effects. I had to have my lawnmower fuel system cleaned out and rebuilt a few years ago and the only advice the repair guy had for me was to start buying ethanol-free gas even if it costs a bit more. (We do.)

At the marina where we launch boats for fishing every summer, you can’t even buy gas with ethanol in it. The boaters won’t use it. Sales of ethanol “removal” additives are booming, even though they don’t truly remove all the ethanol from your fuel.

This pointless policy change seems like nothing more than another sop to the Iowa corn lobby and an apology for any possible impact on farmers from the current tariff fights. The small amount of political capital such a policy change will garner in a relatively small segment of the country is nothing compared to the continued problems our overall ethanol policy is causing across the entire nation. I seriously hope President Trump will reconsider this move and begin moving our fuel policy in a more conservative direction. King Corn shouldn’t have this much power over the White House when there’s a Republican in office.