USDA Pushing EPA for More Ethanol in Gasoline

by Marlo Lewis on February 11, 2009

On Tuesday (Feb. 10), USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urged EPA to increase the quantity of ethanol blended into gasoline from the current amount–10% ethanol per gallon–to some higher percentage, Reuters reports.

Will EPA heed Vilsack’s request or heed the clear implication of www.fueleconomy.gov, a Web site EPA administers jointly with the Department of Energy?

The EPA/DOE Web site reveals that filling up with ethanol is a big fat money-loser. To see for yourself, click on “Flex-Fuel Vehicles,” then click on “Fuel Economy Information for Flex-Fuel Vehicles,” and then click on “Go.”

EPA and DOE compare the average annual cost of using regular gasoline and E-85 (motor fuel blended with 85% ethanol) for 90 different flex-fuel models. In every case, regardless of make or model, fueling the vehicle with E-85 costs more than gasoline—lots more.

Consider a few examples:

E-85

Regular Gas

Annual Cost

Annual Cost

Chevrolet HHR 4WD

$2,225

$1,063

Chrysler Avenger

$2,644

$1,256

Mercedes-Benz C3004matic

$2,821

$1,553

Dodge Caravan 4WD

$3,253

$1,452

Lincoln Town Car FFV

$3,020

$1,452

GMC Sierra C15 2WD Pickup

$3,524

$1,725

Dodge Ram 1500 Pickup 2WD

$4,230

$1,841

Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD

$4,230

$1,841

Toyota Sequoia 4WD

$4,230

$1,971

The Nissan Titan 4WD pickup

$4,230

$1,971

Another neat thing about this site is that it compares the annual carbon footprint of using E-85 versus regular gasoline for each vehicle. In every case, ethanol has a lower carbon footprint (emits fewer annual tons of CO2). This is controversial in light of research (see here, here, and here) indicating that ethanol is a net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions when you take into account emissions from fertilizer used to grow corn and the carbon released from forests and soils as corn cultivation expands into previously unfarmed areas.

Nonetheless, even if one eschews a lifecycle analysis and considers only the direct emissions released by burning equal volumes of gasoline and ethanol, the cost per ton of CO2 avoided by using E-85 is ridiculously expensive.

Consider the Nisan Titan 4WD. According EPA and DOE, using regular gasoline, the Titan emits 13.1 tons of CO2 per year; using E-85, it emits 11.1 tons of CO2 per year. So fueling the Titan with E-85 instead of gasoline reduces the vehicle’s annual CO2 emissions by 2 tons. However, the E-85 costs $2,259 more, which means the per-ton cost of reducing CO2 by using E-85 instead of gasoline is $1,129.50. That’s a dozen times more costly than the “social cost of carbon” (how much damage each ton of CO2 allegedly does) as estimated b