When 10 percent ethanol-gasoline blends (E-10) were commercially introduced in Nebraska in 1978, it was a "new" fuel. Widespread automobile warranty approval for E-10 began with model year 1979. There was a rational reason for E-10 labels at that time.
Today, no rational reason exits. The EPA ruled in 1979 that E-10 is gasoline. Ethanol is one of about 300 components of gasoline. Ethanol is the most benign component in a gallon of gasoline. A gallon of gasoline that includes ethanol as a component must meet a wide range of seasonally adjusted specifications.
Ethanol is a quality fuel component used in most of the gasoline sold in the United States. To require a label for ethanol content while exempting toxic components that make up 90 percent of gasoline makes no sense.
The Journal's recent Opinion on the fuel labeling topic focused on a repeated theme: "consumers should be able to get all the accurate information they can about the products they buy." Fair enough.
But the Journal Star missed a "teaching moment" by not enlightening consumers about the components contained in the other 90 percent of a gallon of gasoline.
Consider the following Material Safety Data Sheet warnings about the other constituents of gasoline: "DANGER!"; "MAY BE HARMFUL OR FATAL IF SWALLOWED"; "MAY CAUSE LUNG DAMAGE"; "BREATHING HIGH CONCENTRATIONS CAN CAUSE IRREGULAR HEARTBEATS WHICH MAY BE FATAL"; DANGER--CONTAINS BENZENE--MAY CAUSE CANCER"; "CAN CAUSE LEUKEMIA AND OTHER BLOOD DISORDERS"; POTENTIAL REPRODUCTIVE HAZARD"; "EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE LIQUID AND VAPOR".
Staying with the Journal's focal point for a moment, wouldn't this type of information be far more useful to consumers than an E-10 label? By contrast to these toxic gasoline components, ethanol is benign.
Ethanol is a commonly used ingredient in foods, flavorings and beverages. Ethanol is not a direct threat to human health, safety and the environment. Ethanol has become a widely used gasoline component because it has excellent octane properties, it reduces the toxicity of gasoline and it mitigates the toxicity of vehicle emissions.
A legislative debate last week included suggestions that ethanol is somehow "different" than gasoline. In many respects that is accurate. Ethanol is a high octane additive which is far less toxic than other octane alternatives. And ethanol is less expensive for refiners and consumers. Ethanol is produced in Nebraska; it is renewable; it reduces the volume of toxic components otherwise found in gasoline.
Ethanol is one of the few environmentally beneficial components in gasoline. By legal definition and practical use, ethanol is simply a component of the gallon of finished gasoline offered for sale to consumers. There is no reason to retain an outdated mandatory label for this fuel component.
Dozens of major cities and the state of Minnesota mandate that ethanol be used as a component in all gasoline. In 2007, the U.S. Congress enacted the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. The standard requires that 15 billion gallons of ethanol be blended into U.S. gasoline in 2012. Gasoline demand projections suggest that about 135 billion gallons will be consumed in 2012. It is clear that by next year ethanol will be used in nearly all gasoline sold in the United States.
There is simply no reason to retain an archaic labeling requirement for one of the safest, most widely used fuel components in gasoline today. The Journal's focus on the 10 percent of gasoline that produces benefits should instead be directed at the 90 percent that creates economic, geopolitical, health and economic chaos.
Todd Sneller is administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board.