Regardless of its original intent, the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard has been extremely costly since its inception more than a decade ago – and it’s only getting worse.
The RFS, a federal government mandate requiring largely corn ethanol be blended in the nation’s fuel supply, has been a complete fiasco for many including boat owners. The environment, consumers, farmers and, yes, even boaters have paid a steep price for this failed policy.
Ethanol, which has been billed as clean and green, is causing harm. The Sierra Club, for example, said recently that “it’s unconscionable” for the EPA to continue to ignore ethanol’s environmental costs. Boaters and anglers are true conservationists and like everyone else, we want clean air and water. But the continued reliance on corn ethanol to meet government mandates is moving our environment backward.
Environmental harm aside, there are the practical, physical impacts of the rising ethanol volumes in our fuel, which boaters are all too familiar with (not to mention motorcyclists, or anyone with a lawn mower, snowblower, chainsaw, or weed whacker). Older and small motors are at risk of serious, costly damage because of ethanol’s inherent corrosive nature.
You could even call it a marine motor’s kryptonite.
Ethanol attracts water by nature, and with a boat’s "open" fuel system that vents into the atmosphere, moisture from the surrounding humid air enters the tank and begins to condense inside tank walls. As the ethanol combines with this moisture over time – like when a boat is in storage over the winter, for example – this can lead to “phase separation.” The process leaves a corrosive ethanol composite at the bottom of the tank, capable of destroying the engine and/or fuel system parts. It can weaken some fiberglass fuel tanks and cause damage to the fuel system including carburetors and rubber gaskets.
The fact is, unless boaters go to great lengths and effort to prevent damage, ethanol will continue to corrode and can cause serious damage. Engines built prior to 1990 are especially susceptible. A 2016 survey by Boating Industry magazine points to ethanol as playing an even “bigger role” in boat service issues than it was the year prior, with 87 percent of survey respondents reporting seeing boat engine damage caused by ethanol.
Ethanol might be a boon for marina service departments, but it’s causing major headaches for boaters.
To help prevent ethanol damage, boaters add fuel stabilizer to their tank and try to always keep their tanks nearly full, in order to minimize the amount of moist air and resulting condensation from entering. Many also install marine fuel-water separator into the gas line, and check and replace it frequently.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t have to take all these steps to prevent damage. All it takes is a visit to a marine engine service department to see that ethanol has been demonstrated to cause harm to many marine engines. Ethanol decreases fuel efficiency, increases costs for consumers, and damages the environment.
That’s why according to those surveyed by BoatUS, 91 percent prefer non-ethanol fuel for their boats. Finding fuel without ethanol is nearly impossible these days, as the mandates keep pushing ethanol content in gasoline higher. With the EPA bowing to the ethanol lobby and pushing the mandates higher, that could mean even more ruined weekends, more repair bills, and more uncertainty that the fuel in your tank can get you home.
After more than a decade of managing ethanol’s damage, isn’t it past time for EPA and the Trump administration to stop ignoring concerns about the consequences of this mandate and phase out this failed renewable fuel boondoggle?
Chris Edmonston is vice president government affairs manager for BoatU.S., the nation's largest organization of recreational boat owners, with over half a million dues-paying members.
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