BoatUS Special Report


E15: A Good Law, For Yesterday

By Nicole Palya Wood
Published: October/November 2013

Congress pops the hood on America's fuel policy and finds there's work to be done

Photo of a gasoline pump
Gas consumption has been on a slight decline since 2007.

A turkey farmer, an environmental activist, and a boater walk into a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill. That may sound like a joke in the making, but it actually describes a few of the diverse witnesses who marched up to a hearing on a hot, muggy June 5 to tell Congress that a once well-intentioned national fuel policy has outlived its usefulness. Add to this unlikely group a motorcyclist, a gasoline refiner, and a classic-car collector, and you start to put a new face on the nation's renewable fuel debate.

Back in 2005, Congress passed the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as part of a sweeping energy package designed to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil by blending more homegrown renewable fuel in our gasoline. The RFS is the formula that mandates the annual volume of renewable fuels refiners must blend into the nation's fuel supply, most significantly into gasoline. Ethanol, a corn-based fuel, grew to have the lion's share of the renewable market and currently 90 percent of the nation's gasoline contains 10 percent ethanol. Although the transition to this fuel was rocky for boaters, motorcyclists, snowmobilers, and other small-engine owners, most of the public adapted. But today the country is using less gasoline, and there's a different transition approaching, one that may prove too much for our shrinking fuel supply to bear.

"It's ironic to think that fuel efficiency is part of the problem," said BoatUS President Margaret Podlich. "But the combination of more stringent fuel-efficiency standards, a recession, and the growing American concern about fuel usage has decreased the amount of fuel we use. That's a good thing. But with the country as a whole becoming more fuel efficient, it means there's less gasoline to mix with increasing volume requirements of renewable fuel." According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), gasoline consumption peaked in 2007, and has been on a slight decline ever since. "When you no longer can add more ethanol to gas at a safe level for the public, you run right into the ‘blend wall,'" added Podlich. Boaters may think that the RFS and so-called blend wall don't really affect their favorite pastime, but an odd set of factors are aligning to create a hurdle in America's fuel policy that could hit boaters square in the wallets.

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