Getting Conned by the Ethanol Lobby

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For decades
now, the federal government has been hitting us in the wallet in
order to subsidize the production of ethanol — alcohol derived from
corn that is now being added to gasoline for a variety of reasons,
which include claims that it is better for the environment than
gasoline and helps to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

But if you’re
a boat owner, there’s a good chance you’ve been feeling another
big side-effect of these ethanol appropriations. As in, your boat's
engine won’t start.

At least that’s
the case with me.

It’s bad enough
that taxpayers are forced to help foot the bill for the production
of ethanol, but if you’re like me, you just may be perversely funding
the destruction of your own property as well.

The Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel reported the potentially devastating effects
of ethanol
on boat engines in an article back in August, explaining
that the gasoline substitute can be most harmful to boats that have
fiberglass fuel tanks and carbureted engines. Specifically, "problems
include erratic engine performance from water and contaminants trapped
in boat fuel systems."

According to
the Mercury Marine website, the fuel-system components of its engines
"will withstand up to 10 percent ethanol content in gasoline."
However, even gasoline with this ethanol formulation has been found
to cause a chemical reaction with fiberglass where resins are drawn
out and carried into the engine; it also tends to break down hoses
and gaskets in motors that are not made with ethanol-compatible
material, which leads to clogged fuel filters and carburetors, leaks,
or engine damage.

I purchased
a 2005 17-foot Boston Whaler with a 90-horsepower Mercury four-stroke
outboard engine last summer, and this past August I had to have
my carburetors repaired after only about 20 hours of use on the
motor because it wouldn't start.

My wife and
I wanted a boat that was relatively low-maintenance, one that would
allow us to just get in it and go whenever we felt like it. To the
contrary, we couldn't even get the engine started in November in
order to pull the boat out of the water to winterize it. That means
that in only a few months time — and after running the gas line
dry following each use since the carburetor work, per recommendation
of the mechanic — the engine again failed to start.

Since my problems
began, I've discovered that Mercury's 90 four-stroke motor, in particular,
has been causing headaches for many other boat owners as well, which
may indicate that this engine contains some design characteristics
making it even more susceptible to ethanol issues than other motors
happen to be. Nevertheless, the point remains that ethanol is wreaking
havoc for many boaters — havoc resulting from government regulations
and incentives aimed at increasing the production and use of gasoline
formulated with ethanol.

Worst of all
— aside from coercive government mandates that impose all sorts
of costs on citizens — there is evidence suggesting that this ethanol
push is more or less intended to be one big handout for American
corn farmers, and, by extension, ethanol manufacturers.

According to
the non-partisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers
for Common Sense
, “the United States government has granted
a multitude of tax incentives and subsidies to promote the growth
of a domestic ethanol industry” since 1978. Indeed, the group claims
that “ethanol has neither reduced dependence on foreign oil nor
significantly helped to reduce pollution,” and that taxpayer subsidies
“serve no other purpose than to artificially prop up the corn and
ethanol industry.”

Robert Bryce has also written in Slate
that ethanol will not reduce oil dependence (as environmental and
ethanol lobby groups like to claim), arguing that it will lead to
higher gas prices, requires more fossil energy to produce than
it actually contains, and provides only two-thirds the energy
of gasoline. According to Mr. Bryce, “Between 1995 and 2003, federal
corn subsidies totaled $37.3 billion

Bruce Stockman, director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association,
has accused
Mercury Marine of having an “anti-ethanol agenda.” I suppose I would
too if the government was artificially increasing my costs and potentially
helping to destroy my business by pushing fuels that damaged my

What is undeniable,
however, is that Mr. Stockman most certainly has a pro-ethanol agenda.
The only difference, of course, is that Mercury isn’t presently
in business at the expense of American taxpayers.

28, 2006

Trevor Bothwell
[send him mail] maintains
the web log, Who's
Your Nanny?

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