Lawmakers close to ditching ethanol mandate for gasoline

Nine years after a major change at the gas pump was forced on Hawaii drivers, many are now calling it a failed experiment and want it gone.

State lawmakers are close to repealing a mandate instituted in 2006 that requires ethanol to be mixed with gasoline.

The additive is commonly made from sugarcane or corn. Most gasoline sold here is a blend of 10 percent ethanol, referred to as E-10.

On Thursday, April 30, a House-Senate conference committee revised Senate Bill 717 to repeal the mandate at the end of the year.

Lawmakers say it failed to attract investors and develop local ethanol production.

The bill now goes to the full House and Senate for a final vote.

At the K&Y repair shop in Kakaako, the move to add ethanol at the gas pump was a big boot to business. Before ethanol, Frank Young repaired a couple of fuel pumps a year. After ethanol was added to gasoline, that number rose to 15 a year.

“It would clear the lines and all the varnish and everything would go into the fuel pump,” said Young. “The pump would go out, costing consumers hundreds of dollars to change a fuel pump.”

To avoid that problem with lawn equipment, some people buy gasoline without ethanol, but you pay a premium price. KHON2 saw one gas station where the price is 22 cents more a gallon over the price of a gallon of regular gas.

In April of 2006 when the state mandated that most gasoline sold in Hawaii have a mix of 10 percent ethanol, the move was not just meant to save the environment, but to also add jobs and attract investment to develop local ethanol production.

Officials with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism testified this year on SB717, the proposal to do away with the ethanol mandate, that “although ethanol has reduced the consumption of petroleum products in the transportation sector, it has been imported and has not been produced locally despite the availability of tax credits.”

The testimony from department director Luis P. Salaveria went on to say that “as Hawaii refiners face a more challenging future consistent with the findings of the 2014 Hawaii Refinery Task Force Final Report, any added costs associated with ethanol blending could adversely affect gasoline price and supply.”

“There were some great intentions by different sugar companies and some plantations that were to produce ethanol,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation. “There were also going to be new technologies to produce the ethanol, but that didn’t pan out.”

One state lawmaker offered another reason why ethanol now may not be a good idea as a gasoline additive.

“I think nationally, you’re seeing a re-examination of the intent because of the diversion of corn production from grain and other food over to gasoline that is causing food prices to rise substantially,” said Rep. Angus McKelvey, chairman of the state House committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.

Lawmakers are now banking on other alternatives like biodiesel. They are also see electric cars and vehicles that run on hydrogen gas as the way to go environmentally on the road.

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