BARRE — Congressman Peter Welch responding is to a television ad attacking him for his stance on ethanol in gasoline.
This weekend, local television stations in Vermont aired an ad from ethanol-advocacy group known as Fuels America, which attacks Welch for being signatory to a letter to Environmental Protection Agency questioning whether the percentage of ethanol in gasoline should be increased.
The ad criticizes Welch for “circulating a plan written by oil industry lobbyists” and concludes by asking viewers to “remind Peter Welch to stand up for Vermont values, not oil companies and climate deniers.”
“I understand why they’re doing it,” Welch said of the ad. “The mandate is a moneymaker for the corn ethanol industry.”
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates an ever-increasing volume of ethanol to enter the nation’s motor vehicle fuel supply. At the time, the Energy Information Administration projected demand for gasoline would continue to rise through 2022.
However, the Energy Information Administration has since revised that forecast, and predicts demand for gasoline will continue to decline through 2035. In spite of this, the 2007 legislation still calls for more ethanol to enter the nation’s gas supply, raising the percentage from the current 10 percent to 15 percent in 2016.
Welch has opposed ethanol in the past, and was part of a successful effort to eliminate a $6 billion federal tax subsidy for ethanol production.
Shane Prisby, trail manager for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, said the ethanol-infused gasoline is bad for small engines.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern across our membership about ethanol in fuels, and particularly with the tools we use to maintain our trails and the sleds we ride,” Prisby said. “You get out there and you have all sorts of corrosion in the engine, as well as a degradation of the plastics and the rubber components.”
Bill Rowell operates Green Mountain Dairy with his brother in Sheldon, as well as a wood-chipping business.
“Ethanol is a lousy fuel if you have a small engine,” Rowell said. “It gums up the engine and it’s more of a liability than an asset.”
Rowell noted the demand for corn for ethanol production has led to spikes in the cost of feed, at one point raising the cost of corn to more than $8 a bushel, which resulted in dairy farmers such as himself spending more to produce milk than they could sell it for.
“When you have a high feed price, it doesn’t matter if you’re feeding chickens, cattle, horses – whatever the livestock is – it comes at a greater expense,” Rowell said.
Rob Kidd, conservation program manager for the Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club, said his organization does not support increased ethanol production.
“The club opposes further deployment of corn-based ethanol, based on its extremely dubious net-carbon benefits and its unresolved direct and indirect environmental impacts,” Kidd said. “Corn-based ethanol requires intensive use of chemicals in corn production and offers little or no reduction in carbon emissions.”
Welch acknowledged that many of the congressional signatories to the letter are people who deny the existence of climate change, while noting his willingness to work with people who have a different point of view than he has.
He also acknowledged the possibility that oil industry lobbyist had a hand in crafting the letter to the EPA.
Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Research Interest Group, rejected the idea that Welch was working on behalf of big oil.
“To suggest he is doing anything at the behest of the oil industry is ridiculous,” Burns said.