Fuel Ethanol: Background and Public Policy Issues

Order Code RL30369 CRS Report for Congress Received through the CRS Web Fuel Ethanol: Background and Public Policy Issues Updated December 17, 2004 Brent D. Yacobucci Specialist in Energy Policy Resources, Science, and Industry Division Jasper Womach Specialist in Agricultural Policy Resources, Science, and Industry Division Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress Fuel Ethanol: Background and Public Policy Issues Summary In light of a changing regulatory and legislative arena, ethanol as a motor fuel has taken on a pivotal role in bringing together often conflicting environmental and energy security interests. Ethanol is produced from biomass (mainly corn) and is mixed with gasoline to produce cleaner-burning fuel called “gasohol” or “E10.” The market for fuel ethanol is heavily dependent on federal incentives and regulations. A major impetus to the use of fuel ethanol has been the tax incentive for its use. Ethanol is expensive relative to gasoline, but it is subject to a federal tax incentive of 52 cents per gallon. This exemption brings the cost of ethanol, which is higher than that of conventional gasoline and other oxygenates, within reach of the cost of competitive alternatives. In addition, there are other incentives such as a small ethanol producers tax credit. It has been argued that the fuel ethanol industry could scarcely survive without these incentives. The Clean Air Act requires that ethanol or another oxygenate be mixed with gasoline in areas with excessive carbon monoxide or ozone pollution. The resulting fuels are called oxygenated gasoline (oxyfuel) and reformulated gasoline (RFG), respectively. Using oxygenates, vehicle emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been reduced by 17%, and toxic emissions have been reduced by approximately 30%. However, there has been a push to change the oxygenate requirements for two reasons. First, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the most common oxygenate, has been found to contaminate groundwater. Second, it is argued that emissions could be reduced to similar levels through the use of clean burning gasoline that does not contain oxygenates. Uncertainties about future oxygenate requirements, as both federal and state governments consider changes, have raised concerns among farm and fuel ethanol industry groups and have prompted renewed congressional interest. Without the current regulatory requirements and incentives, or something comparable, much of ethanol’s market would likely disappear. Expected changes to the reformulated gasoline requirements could either help or hurt the prospects for fuel ethanol (subsequently affecting the corn market), depending on the regulatory and legislative specifics. As a result, significant efforts have been launched by farm interests, the makers of fuel ethanol, agricultural states, and the manufacturers of petroleum products to shape regulatory policy and legislation. Ethanol played a key role in the debate over omnibus energy legislation in the 108 Congress. The stalled energy bill (H.R. 6) would have required the use of 5 billion gallons of renewable fuel (including ethanol) by 2012. It is likely that this issue will be raised again in the 109th Congress. th This report provides background concerning various aspects of fuel ethanol, and a discussion of the current related policy issues. It will be updated as events warrant. Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Ethanol and the Agricultural Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Ethanol Refining and Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Fuel Consumption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Research and Development in Cellulosic Feedstocks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Costs and Benefits of Fuel Ethanol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Economic Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Air Quality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Climate Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Energy Security . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Policy Concerns and Congressional Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Reformulated Gasoline and MTBE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Renewable Fuels Standard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 “Boutique” Fuels . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Alcohol Fuel Tax Incentives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Ethanol Imports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Fuel Economy Credits for Dual Fuel Vehicles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 List of Tables Table 1. Corn Utilization, 2004/2005 Forecast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Table 2. Top 10 Ethanol Producers by Capacity, 2004 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Table 3. Estimated U.S. Consumption of Fuel Ethanol, MTBE, and Gasoline . . 7 Table 4. Price of Pure Ethanol Relative to Gasoline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Fuel Ethanol: Background and Public Policy Issues Introduction Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) is an alcohol made by fermenting and distilling simple sugars. Ethyl alcohol is in alcoholic beverages and it is denatured (made unfit for human consumption) when used for fuel or industrial purposes.1 The biggest use of fuel ethanol in the United States is as an additive in gasoline. It serves as an as an oxygenate (to prevent air pollution from carbon monoxide and ozone), as an octane booster (to prevent early ignition, or “engine knock”), and as an extender of gasoline. In purer forms, it can also be used as an alternative to gasoline in automobiles especially designed for its use. It is produced and consumed mostly in the Midwest, where corn — the main feedstock for ethanol production — is grown. The initial stimulus to ethanol production in the mid-1970s was the drive to develop alternative and renewable supplies of energy in response to the oil embargoes of 1973 and 1979. Production of fuel ethanol has been encouraged by a partial exemption from the motor fuels excise tax. Another impetus to fuel ethanol production has come from corn producers anxious to expand the market for their crop. More recently the use of fuel ethanol has been stimulated by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which require reduced emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) through use of oxygenated or reformulated gasoline. While oxygenates reduce CO and VOC emissions, they also can lead to higher emissions of nitrogen oxides, precursors to ozone formation. While reformulated gasoline has succeeded in reducing ground-level ozone, the overall effect of oxygenates on ozone formation has been questioned. Furthermore, ethanol’s main competitor in oxygenated fuels, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), has been found to contaminate groundwater. This has led to a push to ban MTBE, or eliminate the oxygenate requirements altogether. High gasoline prices have added to the push to remove the oxygenate requirements. The trade-offs between air quality, water quality, and consumer prices have sparked congressional debate on these requirements. In addition, there has been a long-running debate over reduced revenue in the Highway Trust Fund because of the tax incentives that ethanolblended fuels receive. Fuel ethanol is used mainly as a low concentrate blend in gasoline, but can also be used in purer forms as an alternative to gasoline. In 2003, 99% of fuel ethanol 1 Industrial uses include perfumes, aftershaves, and cleansers. CRS-2 consumed in the United States was in the form of “gasohol” or “E10” (blends of gasoline with up to 10% ethanol).2 Fuel ethanol is usually produced from the distillation of fermented simple sugars (e.g. glucose) derived primarily from corn, but also from wheat, potatoes and other vegetables, but can also be produced from cellulosic material such as switch grass, rice straw, and sugar cane (bagasse). The alcohol in fuel ethanol is identical chemically to ethanol used for other purposes such as distilled spirit beverages, but is treated (denatured) with gasoline to make it unfit for human consumption. Ethanol and the Agricultural Economy Corn constitutes about 90% of the feedstock for ethanol production in the United States. The other 10% is largely grain sorghum, along with some barley, wheat, cheese whey and potatoes. Corn is used because it is a relatively low cost source of starch that can be converted to simple sugars, fermented and distilled. It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that about 1.4 billion bushels of corn will be used to produce about 3.7 billion gallons of fuel ethanol during the 2004/2005 corn marketing year.3 This is 12.6% of the projected 10.9 billion bushels of corn utilization.4 Producers of corn, along with other major crops, receive farm income support and price support. Farms with a history of corn production received “direct payments” of over $1 billion in FY2003. Corn producers also are guaranteed a minimum national average price of $1.95/bushel under the nonrecourse marketing assistance loan program, and “counter-cyclical payments” if the season average price is below $2.63/bushel.5 The added demand for corn created by fuel ethanol raises the market price for corn above what it would be otherwise. Economists estimate that when supplies are large, the use of an additional 100 million bushels of corn raises the price by about 4¢ per bushel. When supplies are low, the price impact is greater. The ethanol market is particularly welcome now, when the average price received by farmers is forecast by USDA to average about $2.10 per bushel for the 2004/05 marketing year. At this price the 1.4 billion bushels of corn from the 2003/04 crop that will go for ethanol have a farm value of $2.9 billion. In the absence of the ethanol market, lower corn prices probably would stimulate increased corn utilization in other markets, but sales revenue would not be 2 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Information Administration (EIA). Alternatives to Traditional Transportation Fuels 1999. Updated February 2001. 3 One bushel of corn generates approximately 2.7 gallons of ethanol. 4 Utilization data are used, rather than production, due to the existence of carryover stocks. Corn utilization data address the total amount of corn used within a given period. 5 Detailed explanations are available in CRS Report RS21779, Farm Commodity Programs: Direct Payments, Counter-Cyclical Payments, and Marketing Loans. CRS-3 as high. The lower prices and sales revenue would be likely to result in higher federal spending on corn payments to farmers, as long as corn prices were below the price triggering federal loan deficiency subsidies. Table 1. Corn Utilization, 2004/2005 Forecast Quantity (million bushels) Share of Total Use Livestock feed & residual 6,075 55.8% Food, seed & industrial: 2,770 25.5% — Fuel alcohol 1,370 12.6% — High fructose corn syrup 536 4.9% — Glucose & dextrose 237 2.2% — Starch 285 2.6% — Cereals & other products 189 1.7% — Beverage alcohol 133 1.2% 20 0.2% 2,305 18.7% Total Use 10,880 100.0% Total Production 11,741 — Seed Exports Source: Basic data are from USDA, Economic Research Service, Feed Outlook. November 18, 2004. Ethanol Refining and Production According to the Renewable Fuels Association, at [http://www.ethanolrfa.org/], about 55% of the corn used for ethanol is processed by “dry” milling plants (a grinding process) and the other 45% is processed by “wet” milling plants (a chemical extraction process). The basic steps of both processes are as follows. First, the corn is processed, with various enzymes added to separate fermentable sugars. Next, yeast is added to the mixture for fermentation to make alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled to fuel-grade ethanol that is 85%-95% pure.6 Finally, for fuel and industrial purposes the ethanol is denatured with a small amount of a displeasing or noxious chemical to make it unfit for human consumption.7 In the U.S., the denaturant for fuel ethanol is gasoline. Ethanol is produced largely in the Midwest corn belt, with almost 90% of the national output occurring in five states: Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and 6 The byproduct of the dry milling process is distillers dried grains. The byproducts of wet milling are corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, and corn oil. Distillers dried grains, corn gluten feed, and corn gluten meal are used as livestock feed. 7 Renewable Fuels Association, Ethanol Industry Outlook 2002, Growing Homeland Energy Security. CRS-4 Indiana. Because it is generally less expensive to produce ethanol close to the feedstock supply, it is not surprising that the top five corn-producing states in the U.S. are also the top five ethanol-producers. Most ethanol use is in the metropolitan centers of the Midwest, where it is produced. However, due to Clean Air Act rules and concerns over other fuel additives, ethanol use on the coasts is growing steadily. When ethanol is used in other regions, shipping costs tend to be high, since ethanol-blended gasoline cannot travel through petroleum pipelines, and must be transported by truck, rail, or barge. This geographic concentration is an obstacle to the use of ethanol on the East and West Coasts. The potential for expanding production geographically is one motivation behind research on cellulosic ethanol. If regions could locate production facilities closer to the point of consumption, the costs of using ethanol could be lessened. Furthermore, if regions could produce fuel ethanol from local crops, there would be an increase in regional agricultural income. Table 2. Top 10 Ethanol Producers by Capacity, 2004 (million gallons per year) Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) 1070 Cargill 118 Aventine Renewable Energy 100 VeraSun Energy Corporation 100 New Energy Corp. 95 Abenoga Bioenergy Corp. 85 MGP Ingredients 78 Tate & Lyle 65 Chief Ethanol 62 AGP 52 All Others 1651 Total 3476 Source: Renewable Fuels Association, Ethanol Industry Outlook 2004. Note: These include existing plants and those under construction. Ethanol production is also concentrated among a few large producers. The top five companies account for approximately 43% of production capacity, and the top ten companies account for approximately 53% of production capacity. (See Table 2.) Critics of the ethanol industry in general — and specifically of the ethanol tax incentives — argue that the tax incentives for ethanol production equate to “corporate welfare” for a few large producers.8 However, the share of production capacity 8 James Bovard, Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study in Corporate Welfare. Cato (continued...) CRS-5 controlled by the largest producers has been dropping as more producers have entered the market. Overall, by the end of 2004, domestic ethanol production capacity will be approximately 3.6 billion gallons per year. Under current laws and incentives, consumption has increased from 1.8 billion gallons per year in 2001 to 2.8 billion gallons per year in 2003. Production capacity will continue increasing to meet the growing demand. However, if the Clean Air Act is amended to limit or ban MTBE, or if other incentives for ethanol use are enacted, ethanol production capacity may expand at a faster rate. This is especially true if MTBE is banned while maintaining the oxygenate requirements, since ethanol is the most likely substitute for MTBE.9 This scenario is currently playing out in states such as California, Connecticut, and New York, where MTBE is banned. Fuel is not the only output of an ethanol facility, however. Co-products play an important role in the profitability of a plant. In addition to the primary ethanol output, the corn wet milling generates corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, and corn oil, and dry milling creates distillers grains. Corn oil is used as a vegetable oil and is higher priced than soybean oil. Approximately 12 million metric tons of gluten feed, gluten meal, and dried distillers grains are produced in the United States and sold as livestock feed annually. A major market for corn gluten feed and meal has been the European Union, which imported an average of 4.2 million metric tons annually over the past two years. Revenue from the ethanol byproducts help offset the cost of corn. The net cost of corn relative to the price of ethanol (the ethanol production margin) and the difference between ethanol and wholesale gasoline prices (the fuel blending margin) are the major determinants of the level of ethanol production. Currently, the ethanol production margin is high because of the low price of corn. At the same time, the wholesale price of gasoline (counting all tax incentives) is higher than the price of ethanol, which encourages ethanol use. Fuel Consumption Approximately 2.8 billion gallons of ethanol fuel were consumed in the United States in 2003, mainly blended into E10 gasohol. While large, this figure represents only 2.1% of the approximately 133 billion gallons of gasoline consumption in the same year.10 According to DOE, ethanol consumption is expected to grow to 3.0 billion gallons per year in 2005 and 4.5 billion gallons per year in 2025. This would increase ethanol’s market share to approximately 2.2% by 2005. Under current conditions, which may change considerably in the near future, this 2.2% share is 8 (...continued) Institute. September 26, 1995. 9 For more information, see section on MTBE. 10 DOE, EIA, Alternatives to Traditional Transportation Fuels 2003. Table 10. CRS-6 projected to remain constant through 2020.11 However, ethanol’s market share could increase more quickly if a renewable fuels standard (RFS) is enacted. (See the section on Renewable Fuels Standard.) The most significant barrier to wider use of fuel ethanol is its cost. Even with tax incentives for ethanol producers (see the section on Economic Effects), the fuel tends to be more expensive than gasoline per gallon.12 Furthermore, since fuel ethanol has a somewhat lower energy content, more fuel is required to travel the same distance. This energy loss leads to an approximate 3% decrease in miles-pergallon vehicle fuel economy with gasohol.13 However, ethanol’s chemical properties make it very useful for some applications, especially as an additive in gasoline. Major stimuli to the use of ethanol have been the oxygenate requirements of the Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) and Oxygenated Fuels programs of the Clean Air Act.14 Oxygenates are used to promote more complete combustion of gasoline, which reduces carbon monoxide and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.15 In addition, oxygenates can replace other chemicals in gasoline, such as benzene, a toxic air pollutant (see the section on Air Quality). The two most common oxygenates are ethanol and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Until recently, MTBE, primarily made from natural gas or petroleum products, has been preferred to ethanol in most regions because it is generally much less expensive, is easier to transport and distribute, and is available in greater supply. Because of different distribution systems and blending processes (with gasoline), substituting one oxygenate for another can lead to significant cost increases. Despite the cost differential, there are several possible advantages of using ethanol over MTBE. Ethanol contains 35% oxygen by weight — twice the oxygen content of MTBE. Furthermore, since ethanol is produced from agricultural products, it has the potential to be a sustainable fuel, while MTBE is produced from natural gas and petroleum, fossil fuels. In addition, ethanol is readily biodegradable, eliminating some of the potential concerns about groundwater contamination that have surrounded MTBE (see the section on MTBE). However, there is concern that ethanol use can lead to contamination by benzene and other toxic compounds.16 11 DOE, EIA, Annual Energy Outlook 2003. January, 2003. Tables A2 and A18. 12 However, gasoline prices have been high recently, making ethanol more attractive as a blending component. 13 It should be noted that the use of ethanol does not effect the efficiency of an engine. There is simply less energy in one gallon of ethanol than in one gallon of gasoline. 14 Section 211, subsections k and m (respectively). 42 U.S.C. 7545. 15 CO, VOCs and nitrogen oxides are the main precursors to ground-level ozone. 16 Susan E. Powers, David Rice, Brendan Dooher, and Pedro J. J. Alvarez, “Will EthanolBlended Gasoline Affect Groundwater Quality?,” Environmental Science and Technology. January 1, 2001. p. 24A. CRS-7 Both ethanol and MTBE also can be blended into otherwise non-oxygenated gasoline to raise the octane rating of the fuel. High-performance engines and older engines often require higher octane fuel to prevent early ignition, or “engine knock.” Other chemicals may be used for the same purpose, but some of these alternatives are highly toxic, and some are regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.17 Furthermore, since these additives do not contain oxygen, their use may not lead to the same emissions reductions as oxygenated gasoline. In purer forms, ethanol can also be used as an alternative to gasoline in vehicles specifically designed for its use, although this only represents approximately 1% of ethanol consumption in the United States. The federal government and state governments, along with businesses in the alternative fuel industry, are required to purchase alternative-fueled vehicles by the Energy Policy Act of 1992.18 In addition, under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, municipal fleets can use alternative fuel vehicles to mitigate air quality problems. Blends of 85% ethanol with 15% gasoline (E85), and 95% ethanol with 5% gasoline (E95) are currently considered alternative fuels by the Department of Energy.19 The small amount of gasoline added to the alcohol helps prevent corrosion of engine parts, and aids ignition in cold weather. Table 3. Estimated U.S. Consumption of Fuel Ethanol, MTBE, and Gasoline (thousand gasoline-equivalent gallons) 1996 1998 2000 2002 E85 694 1,727 7,074 10,075 E95 2,699 59a 13 0 660,200 889,500 1,106,300 1,118,900 MTBE in Gasoline 2,749,700 2,903,400 3,087,900 2,531,000 Gasolineb 117,783,000 122,849,000 125,720,000 130,735,000 Ethanol in Gasohol (E10) Source: Department of Energy, Alternatives to Traditional Transportation Fuels 1999. a A major drop in E95 consumption occurred between 1997 and 1998 because of a significant decrease in the number of E95-fueled vehicles in operation (347 to 14), due to the elimination of an ethanol-fueled bus fleet in California. DOE currently lists no E95 vehicles in operation. b Gasoline consumption includes ethanol in gasohol and MTBE in gasoline. 17 Lead was commonly used as an octane enhancer until it was phased-out through the mid1980s (lead in gasoline was completely banned in 1995), due to the fact that it disables emissions control devices, and because it is toxic to humans. 18 19 P.L. 102-486. More diluted blends of ethanol, such as E10, are considered to be “extenders” of gasoline, as opposed to alternatives. CRS-8 Approximately 10 million gasoline-equivalent gallons (GEG)20 of E85 were consumed in 2002, mostly in midwestern states.21 (See Table 3.) One reason for the relatively low consumption of E85 is that there are relatively few vehicles on the road that operate on these fuels. In 2002, approximately 82,000 vehicles were fueled by E85,22 as compared to approximately 210 million gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles that were on the road in the same year.23 One obstacle to the use of alternative fuel vehicles is that they are generally more expensive than conventional vehicles, although this margin has decreased in recent years with newer technology. Another obstacle is that, as was stated above, fuel ethanol is generally more expensive than gasoline or diesel fuel. In addition, there are very few fueling sites for E85, especially outside of the Midwest. Research and Development in Cellulosic Feedstocks For ethanol to play a more significant role in U.S. fuel consumption, the fuel must become price-competitive with gasoline. Since a major part of the total production cost is the cost of feedstock, reducing feedstock costs could lead to lower wholesale ethanol costs. For this reason, there is a great deal of interest in the use of cellulosic feedstocks, which include low-value waste products, such as recycled paper and rice hulls, or dedicated fuel crops, such as switch grass and fast growing trees. A dedicated fuel crop is one that would be grown and harvested solely for the purpose of fuel production. However, as the name indicates, cellulosic feedstocks are high in cellulose, and cellulose cannot be fermented. Cellulose must first be broken down into simpler carbohydrates, and this can add an expensive step to the process. Therefore, research has focused on both reducing the process costs for cellulosic ethanol, and improving the availability of cellulosic feedstocks. Costs and Benefits of Fuel Ethanol Economic Effects Given that a major constraint on the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel, and as an oxygenate, is its high price, ethanol has not been competitive with gasoline as a fuel. Wholesale ethanol prices, before incentives from the federal government and 20 Since different fuels produce different amounts of energy per gallon when consumed, the unit of a gasoline-equivalent gallon (GEG) is used to compare total energy consumption. 21 DOE, EIA, Alternatives to Traditional Transportation Fuels 2000. 22 Ibid. In 1997, some manufacturers made flexible E85/gasoline fueling capability standard on some models. It is expected, however, that most of these vehicles will be fueled by gasoline. 23 Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2001. November 2002. CRS-9 state governments, are generally twice that of wholesale gasoline prices. With federal and state incentives, however, the effective price of ethanol is much lower. Furthermore, gasoline prices have risen recently, making ethanol more attractive. Before 2004, the primary federal incentive to support the ethanol industry was a 5.2¢ per gallon exemption that blenders of gasohol (E10) received from the 18.4¢ federal excise tax on motor fuels.24 Because the exemption applied to blended fuel, of which ethanol comprises only 10%, the exemption provided for an effective subsidy of 52¢ per gallon of pure ethanol. (See Table 4.) The 108th Congress replaced this exemption with an income tax credit of 51 cents per gallon of pure ethanol used in blending (P.L. 108-357). Table 4. Price of Pure Ethanol Relative to Gasoline March 2002 to February 2003 Ethanol Wholesale Pricea 94 - 133 ¢/gallon Alcohol Fuel Tax Incentive 51 ¢/gallon Effective Price of Ethanol 43 - 82 ¢/gallon Gasoline Wholesale Priceb 65 - 103 ¢/gallon Source: “Oxy-Fuel News’ Monthly Markets Update,” Hart’s Oxy-Fuel News. May 27, 2002, through February 3, 2003. a b This is the average terminal price for pure (“neat”) ethanol. This is the average Gulf Coast spot price for regular conventional gasoline (i.e. non-oxygenated, standard octane). It is argued that the ethanol industry could not survive without the tax exemption. An economic analysis conducted in 1998 by the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute, in conjunction with the congressional debate over extension of the tax exemption, concluded that ethanol production from corn would decline from 1.5 billion gallons per year, and stabilize at about 290 million gallons per year, if the exemption were eliminated.25 The tax exemption for ethanol is criticized by some as a corporate subsidy,26 because, in this view, it encourages the inefficient use of agricultural and other resources, and deprives the Highway Trust Fund of needed revenues.27 In 1997, the General Accounting Office estimated that the tax exemption lead to approximately $7.5 to $11 billion in foregone Highway Trust Fund revenue over the 22 years from 24 26 U.S.C. 40. 25 Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute. Effects on Agriculture of Elimination of the Excise Tax Exemption for Fuel Ethanol, Working Paper 01-97, April 8, 1997. 26 27 James Bovard. p. 8. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Effects of the Alcohol Fuels Tax Incentives. March, 1997. CRS-10 FY1979 to FY2000.28 The petroleum industry opposes the incentive because it also results in reduced use of petroleum. Proponents of the tax incentive argue that ethanol leads to better air quality, and that substantial benefits flow to the agriculture sector due to the increased demand for corn created by ethanol. Furthermore, they argue that the increased market for ethanol leads to a stronger U.S. trade balance, since a smaller U.S. ethanol industry would lead to increased imports of MTBE to meet the demand for oxygenates.29 Air Quality One of the main motivations for ethanol use is improved air quality. Ethanol is primarily used in gasoline to meet minimum oxygenate requirements of two Clean Air Act programs. Reformulated gasoline (RFG)30 is used to reduce vehicle emissions in areas that are in severe or extreme nonattainment of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone.31 Ten metropolitan areas, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston, are covered by this requirement, and many other areas with less severe ozone problems have opted into the program, as well.32 In these areas, RFG is used year-round. By contrast, the Oxygenated Fuels program operates only in the winter months in 16 areas33 that are listed as carbon monoxide (CO) nonattainment areas.34 EPA states that RFG has led to significant improvements in air quality, including a 17% reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions from vehicles, and a 30% reduction in toxic emissions. Furthermore, according to EPA “ambient monitoring data from the first year of the RFG program (1995) also showed strong signs that RFG is working. For example, detection of benzene (one of the air toxics controlled by RFG, and a known human carcinogen) declined dramatically, with a median reduction of 38% from the previous year.”35 28 Jim Wells, GAO, Petroleum and EthanolFuels: Tax Incentives and Related GAO Work. September 25, 2000. 29 Katrin Olson, “USDA Shows Losses Associated with Eliminating Ethanol Incentive,” Oxy- Fuel News. May 19, 1997. p. 3. 30 Clean Air Act, Section 211, subsection k. 42 U.S.C. 7545. 31 Ground-level ozone is an air pollutant that causes smog, adversely affects health, and injures plants. It should not be confused with stratospheric ozone, which is a natural layer some 6 to 20 miles above the earth and provides a degree of protection from harmful radiation. 32 Under new ozone standards recently promulgated by EPA, the number of RFG areas will likely increase. 33 Only the Los Angeles and New York areas are subject to both programs. 34 Clean Air Act, Section 211, subsection m. 42 U.S.C. 7545. 35 Margo T. Oge, Director, Office of Mobile Sources, U.S. EPA, Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives. September 14, 1999. CRS-11 However, the need for oxygenates in RFG has been questioned. Although oxygenates lead to lower emissions of VOCs, and CO, they may lead to higher emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX). Since all three contribute to the formation of ozone, the National Research Council concluded that while RFG certainly leads to improved air quality, the oxygenate requirement in RFG may have little overall impact on ozone formation.36 Some argue that the main benefit of oxygenates use is that they displace other, more dangerous compounds such as benzene. Furthermore, high gasoline prices have also raised questions about the RFG program. Evidence that the most widely-used oxygenate, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), contaminates groundwater has led to a push by some to eliminate the oxygen requirement in RFG. MTBE has been identified as an animal carcinogen, and there is concern that it is a possible human carcinogen. In California, MTBE was to be banned as of December 31, 2002. However, because of a projected spike in consumer gasoline prices California Governor Gray Davis postponed the ban until December 31, 2003.37 California petitioned EPA to exempt the state from the oxygenate requirement, but on June 12, 2001, Administrator Whitman announced that the Agency could not grant California’s request.38 Currently, MTBE is banned in California, Connecticut, and New York, and several other states have acted to ban or limit its use. If the oxygenate requirements were eliminated, some refiners claim that the environmental goals of the RFG program could be achieved through cleaner, although potentially more costly, gasoline that does not contain any oxygenates.39 These claims have added to the push to remove the oxygen requirement and allow refiners to produce RFG in the most cost-effective manner, whether or not that includes the use oxygenates. However, some environmental groups are concerned that an elimination of the oxygenate requirements would compromise air quality gains resulting from the current standards, since oxygenates also displace other harmful chemicals in gasoline. This potential for “backsliding” is a result of the fact that the current performance of RFG is substantially better than the Clean Air Act requires. If the oxygenate standard were eliminated, environmental groups fear that refiners would only meet the requirements of the law, as opposed to maintaining the current overcompliance. While the potential ozone benefit from oxygenates in RFG has been questioned, there is little dispute that the winter Oxy-Fuels program has led to lower emissions of CO. The Oxy-Fuels program requires oxygenated gasoline in the winter months 36 National Research Council, Ozone-Forming Potential of Reformulated Gasoline. May, 1999. 37 Caroyln Whetzel, “California Governor Delays MTBE Ban by 12 Months, Citing Possible Price Hikes,” Daily Environment Report. March 18, 2002. p. A-15. 38 EPA, Headquarters Press Release: EPA Issues Decision on California Waiver Request. June 12, 2001. 39 Al Jessel, Senior Fuels Regulatory Specialist of Chevron Products Company, Testimony Before the House Science Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. September 30, 1999. CRS-12 to control CO pollution in NAAQS nonattainment areas for the CO standard. However, this program is small relative to the RFG program.40 The air quality benefits from purer forms of ethanol also can be substantial. Compared to gasoline, use of E85 can result in a 30-50% reduction in ozone-forming emissions. And while the use of ethanol also leads to increased emissions of acetaldehyde, a toxic air pollutant, as defined by the Clean Air Act, these emissions can be controlled through the use of advanced catalytic converters.41 However, as was stated above, these purer forms of ethanol have not seen wide use. Climate Change Another potential environmental benefit from ethanol is the fact that it is a renewable fuel. Proponents of ethanol argue that over the entire fuel cycle42 it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles relative to gasoline, therefore reducing the risk of possible global warming. Because ethanol (C2H5OH) contains carbon, combustion of the fuel necessarily results in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary greenhouse gas. However, since photosynthesis (the process by which plants convert light into chemical energy) requires absorption of CO2, the growth cycle of the feedstock crop can serve — to some extent — as a “sink” that absorbs some of these emissions. In addition to CO2 emissions, the emissions of other greenhouse gases may increase or decrease depending on the fuel cycle.43 According to Argonne National Laboratory, vehicle greenhouse gas emissions using E10 (measured in grams per mile) are approximately 1% lower than using gasoline. With improvements in production processes, by 2010, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol relative to gasoline could be as high as 8-10% for E10, while the use of E95 could lead to significantly higher reductions.44 While some studies have called into question the efficiency of the ethanol production process, most recent studies find a net energy gain.45 If efficiency were diminished, overall reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would also be diminished, due to higher fuel consumption during the production process. 40 In 1998, an average of 90.9 million gallons per day of RFG were sold in the U.S., as opposed to 8.0 million gallons per day of Oxy-Fuel gasoline. 41 California Energy Commission, Ethanol-Powered Vehicles. 42 The fuel cycle consists of all inputs and processes involved in the development, delivery and final use of the fuel. 43 For example, nitrous oxide emissions tend to increase with ethanol use because nitrogenbased fertilizers are used extensively in agricultural production. 44 M. Wang, C. Saricks, and D. Santini, “Effects of Fuel Ethanol on Fuel-Cycle Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Argonne National Laboratory. 45 Hosein Shapouri, James A. Duffield, and Michael S. Graboski, USDA, Economic Research Service, Estimating the Net Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol. July 1995. CRS-13 Energy Security Another frequent argument for the use of ethanol as a motor fuel is that it reduces U.S. reliance on oil imports, making the U.S. less vulnerable to a fuel embargo of the sort that occurred in the 1970s, which was the event that initially stimulated development of the ethanol industry. With current technology, according to Argonne National Laboratory, the use of E10 leads to a 3% reduction in fossil energy use per vehicle mile, while use of E95 could lead to a 44% reduction in fossil energy use.46 However, other studies contradict the Argonne study, suggesting that the amount of energy needed to produce ethanol is roughly equal to the amount of energy obtained from its combustion, which could lead to little or no reductions in fossil energy use.47 However, because most of the energy used to produce ethanol comes from natural gas or electricity, overall petroleum dependence could be diminished through the use of ethanol. As was stated above, fuel ethanol only accounts for approximately 1.6% of gasoline consumption in the United States by volume. In terms of energy, ethanol accounts for approximately 0.9%. This small market share led GAO to conclude that the ethanol tax incentive has done little to promote energy security.48 Furthermore, since ethanol is currently dependent on the U.S. corn supply, any threats to this supply (e.g. drought), or increases in corn prices, would negatively affect the cost and/or supply of ethanol. This happened when high corn prices caused by strong export demand in 1995 contributed to an 18% decline in ethanol production between 1995 and 1996. Policy Concerns and Congressional Activity Recent congressional interest in ethanol fuels has mainly focused on five issues: (1) RFG oxygenate requirements and a possible phase-out of MTBE; (2) a renewable fuels standard; (3) “boutique” fuels; (4) the alcohol fuel tax incentives; (5) ethanol imports through Caribbean Basin Initiative countries; and (6) fuel economy credits for dual fuel vehicles. In the 108th Congress, several of these issues were debated in the comprehensive energy bill (H.R. 6). Reformulated Gasoline and MTBE A key issue involving ethanol is the current debate over MTBE. Since MTBE, a possible human carcinogen, has been found in groundwater in some states (especially in California), there has been a push both in California and nationally to 46 Wang, et. al. p. 1 47 Shapouri, et. al. Table 1. 48 U.S. General Accounting Office, Effects of the Alcohol Fuels Tax Incentives. March, 1997. CRS-14 ban MTBE.49 In March 1999, California’s Governor Davis issued an Executive Order requiring that MTBE be phased out of gasoline in the state by December 31, 2002, although the date of the ban was pushed back to December 31, 2003. At least twelve other states have also instituted limits or bans on MTBE. In July 1999, an advisory panel to EPA recommended that MTBE use should be “reduced substantially.”50 California, Connecticut, and New York banned MTBE as of January 1, 2004, and other states are expected to follow suit over the next few years. State bans and a possible federal ban on MTBE are expected to have serious consequences for fuel markets, especially if the oxygenate requirements remain in place. Since ethanol is MTBE’s chief competitor, it is being used to replace MTBE in California, Connecticut, New York, and other states. However, there is not currently enough U.S. production capacity to meet the potential demand if a national ban were enacted. Therefore, it would likely be necessary to phase out MTBE over time, as opposed to an immediate ban. Furthermore, the consumer price for oxygenated fuels likely would increase because ethanol, unlike MTBE, cannot be shipped through pipelines and must be mixed close to the point of sale, adding to delivery costs. Increased demand for oxygenates also could be met through imports from countries such as Brazil, which is a leader worldwide in fuel ethanol production, and currently has a surplus.51 However, ethanol imports are a growing concern to some stakeholders, as will be discussed below. While a ban on MTBE would seem to have positive implications for ethanol producers, it could actually work against them. Because MTBE is commonly used in RFG and high-octane gasoline, and because current ethanol production can not currently meet total U.S. demand for oxygenates and octane, there is also a push to suspend the oxygenate requirement in RFG, which would remove a major stimulus to the use of fuel ethanol. Furthermore, environmental groups and state air quality officials, although supportive of a ban on MTBE, are concerned over the possibility of “backsliding” if the oxygenate standard is eliminated. Because current RFG formulations have a lower level of toxic substances than is required under the Clean Air Act, there are concerns that new RFG formulations without oxygenates will meet the existing standard, but not the current level of overcompliance. Along with California’s ban on MTBE, the state requested that the oxygen requirement be waived. On June 12, 2001, EPA informed California that the agency could not grant the request. CAA only grants EPA the authority to suspend fuel requirements if there are threats to air quality, despite potential hazards to water 49 For more information, see CRS Report 98-290 ENR, MTBE in Gasoline: Clean Air and Drinking Water Issues. 50 Blue Ribbon Panel on Oxygenates in Gasoline, Achieving Clean Air and Clean Water: The Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Oxygenates in Gasoline. 51 Adrian Schofield, “Brazilian Ambassador Sees Opportunity in United States Ethanol Market,” New Fuels & Vehicles Report. September 16, 1999. p. 1. CRS-15 quality.52 Some have proposed that the CAA be amended to allow EPA the authority to suspend fuel requirements in the case of water contamination. Supporters of ethanol have proposed that along with a ban of MTBE, a renewable standard should be introduced. This would require that a certain percentage or set amount of fuel in the U.S. be made from renewable sources. This type or requirement, if large enough, would protect the ethanol market if the RFG oxygenate standard were eliminated. (See below.) When the 108th Congress considered comprehensive energy legislation, it gave considerable attention to MTBE and RFG. The conference version of H.R. 6 would have eliminated the oxygen standard for RFG, and banned the use of MTBE. However, the bill would have given the President the authority to void the MTBE ban. The bill would also have provided a “safe harbor” that would exempt MTBE and ethanol producers and blenders from defective product liability.53 Renewable Fuels Standard There is congressional interest in establishing a renewable fuels standard. This would require motor fuel to contain a certain percentage or set amount of renewable fuel. A renewable fuel requirement would be met by mostly ethanol, although other fuels such as biodiesel would play a small role.54 Supporters argue that without an oxygen requirement in RFG (see above), a key market for ethanol would be lost. They argue that demand for ethanol creates jobs, and that there are major environmental and energy security benefits to using renewable fuels. However, opponents argue that any renewable fuels standard would only exacerbate a situation of artificial demand for ethanol. Any requirement above the existing level for ethanol would require the construction and/or expansion of ethanol plants, and likely would lead to increased fuel prices and further instability in an already tight fuel supply chain. Further, they argue that a renewable fuels standard would lead to increased corn prices caused by higher demand. The conference report on H.R. 6 would have required the use of 3.1 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2005, increasing to 5.0 billion gallons in 2012.55 This would mean roughly a doubling of renewable fuel production by 2012, including a likely doubling of ethanol production. The bill would have also established a credit 52 EPA, Headquarters Press Release: EPA Issues Decision on California Waiver Request. June 12, 2001. 53 The House version of the bill would not have banned MTBE. The Senate version would have banned MTBE, but the safe harbor provision only applied to renewable fuels (and not MTBE). 54 Biodiesel is an synthetic diesel fuel made from oils such as soybean oil. Fore more information, see CRS Report RL30758, Alternative Transportation Fuels and Vehicles: Energy, Environment, and Development Issues. 55 The House version of the bill would have required 2.7 billion gallons in 2005, increasing to 5.0 billion gallons in 2015. The Senate version would have required 2.3 billion gallons in 2004, increasing to 5.0 billion gallons in 2012. CRS-16 trading system to provide flexibility to fuel producers. As was stated above, the bill would have created a “safe harbor” from defective product liability for renewable fuel suppliers. “Boutique” Fuels56 As a result of the federal reformulated and oxygenated gasoline requirements, as well as related state and local environmental requirements, gasoline suppliers may face several different standards for gasoline quality. These different standards sometimes require a supplier to provide several different fuels in that area. These different formulations are sometimes referred to as “boutique” fuels.57 Because of varying local requirements, if there is a disruption to the supply of fuel in one area, refiners in other areas may not be able to supply fuel quickly to meet the increased demand. EPA conducted a study on the effects of harmonizing standards, and released a staff white paper in October 2001. In its preliminary analysis, EPA concluded that some minor changes could be made that might mitigate supply disruptions without significantly increasing costs or adversely affecting vehicle emissions. However, all of the scenarios in EPA’s study would require amendments to the RFG provisions in the Clean Air Act. Congressional interest has centered on the question of whether the various standards could be harmonized to reduce the number of gasoline formulations. The conference report on H.R. 6 would have required EPA to study the feasibility of developing harmonized national standards.58 Alcohol Fuel Tax Incentives59 As stated above, the ethanol tax incentives are controversial. The incentives allows fuel ethanol to compete with other additives, since the wholesale price of ethanol is so high. Proponents of ethanol argue that the incentives lower dependence on foreign imports, promote air quality, and benefit farmers.60 Opponents argue that the tax incentives support an industry that could not exist on its own. Despite objections from opponents, Congress in 1998 extended the motor fuels tax exemption through 2007, but at slightly lower rates (P.L. 105-178). 56 For more information on boutique fuels, see CRS Report RL31361, “Boutique Fuels” and Reformulated Gasoline: Harmonization of Fuel Standards. 57 EPA, Office of Transportation and Air Quality, Staff White Paper: Study of Unique Gasoline Fuel Blends (“Boutique Fuels”), Effects on Fuel Supply and Distribution and Potential Improvements. October, 2001. 58 Both the House and Senate versions contained similar provisions. 59 For more information, see CRS Report 98-435 E, Alcohol Fuels Tax Incentives. 60 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Effects of the Alcohol Fuels Tax Incentives. March, 1997. CRS-17 To eliminate concerns over Highway Trust Fund revenue, the 108th Congress replaced the existing tax exemption with an income tax credit, effectively transferring the effects of the incentive from the Highway Trust Fund to the general treasury (P.L. 108-357). Ethanol Imports There is growing concern among some stakeholders over ethanol imports. Because of lower production costs and/or government incentives, ethanol prices in Brazil and other countries can be significantly lower than in the United States. To offset the U.S. excise tax incentive that all ethanol (imported or domestic) receives, most imports are subject to a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff. This tariff effectively negates the excise tax incentive for covered imports, and has been a significant barrier to ethanol imports. However, under certain conditions imports of ethanol from Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) countries are granted duty-free status.61 This is true even if the ethanol was produced in a non-CBI country. In this scenario the ethanol is dehydrated in a CBI country, then shipped to the United States. This avenue for imported ethanol to avoid the tariff has been criticized by some stakeholders, including some Members of Congress. In the spring and summer of 2004, two companies announced the possibility of constructing new dehydrating facilities in CBI countries and shipping ethanol from Brazil. In response, two bills were introduced in the 108th Congress. S. 2762 (Grassley) would have established additional limits to the amount of dehydrated ethanol that could be imported under the CBI. S. 2769 (Daschle) would have precluded the use of imported ethanol in any future renewable fuels standard (see above). Both bills were referred to committee. Fuel Economy Credits for Dual Fuel Vehicles The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) of 197562 requires Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for motor vehicles.63 Under EPCA, the average fuel economy of all vehicles of a given class that a manufacturer sells in a model year must be equal to or greater than the standard. These standards were first enacted in response to the desire to reduce petroleum consumption and promote energy security after the Arab oil embargo. The current standard for passenger cars is 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg), while the standard for light trucks is 20.7 mpg. However, EPCA and subsequent amendments provide manufacturing incentives for alternative fuel vehicles, including ethanol vehicles.64 For each alternative fuel vehicle a manufacturer produces, credits are provided that increase the 61 For more information on ethanol imports from CBI countries, see CRS Report RS21930, Ethanol Imports and the Caribbean Basin Initiative. 62 P.L. 94-163. 63 For more information on CAFE standards, see CRS Issue Brief IB90122, Automobile and Light Truck Fuel Economy: Is CAFE Up to Standards? 64 49 U.S.C. 32905. CRS-18 manufacturer’s average. These credits include dual fuel vehicles — those vehicles that can be operated on both a conventional fuel (gasoline or diesel) and an alternative fuel, usually ethanol. Concerns have been raised that while manufacturers are receiving credits for production of these dual fuel vehicles, they are generally operated solely on gasoline, because of the cost and unavailability of alternative fuels. Supporters of the credits argue that the incentives are necessary for the production of alternative fuel vehicles, and that as the number of vehicles increases, the infrastructure for alternative fuels will grow. The credits are set to expire at the end of the 2004 model year. However, on February 19, 2004, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule extending the credits through model year 2008.65 Under EPCA, DOT does not have the authority to extend the credits past model year 2008; any further extension requires legislation. The conference version of H.R. 6 would have statutorily extended the credits through model year 2008, and would have extended DOT’s authority (to continue the credits) through 2012.66 Conclusion As a result of the current debate over the future of MTBE in RFG, and the RFG program in general, the future of the U.S. ethanol industry is uncertain. A ban on MTBE would greatly expand the market for ethanol, while an elimination of the oxygenate requirement would remove a major stimulus for its use. Any changes in the demand for ethanol will have major effects on corn producers, who rely on the industry as a sizable market for their production. The current size of the ethanol industry depends significantly on federal laws and regulations that promote ethanol use for air quality and energy security purposes, as well as tax incentives that lessen its cost to consumers. Without these, it is likely that the industry would shrink substantially in the near future. However, if fuel ethanol process costs can be decreased, or if gasoline prices increase, ethanol could increase its role in U.S. fuel consumption. 65 66 60 Federal Register 7689. The Senate version contained an identical provision. The House version contained no similar provision.