State lawmakers consider requiring more ethanol-blended fuels |

State lawmakers consider requiring more ethanol-blended fuels

DENVER ” Amid soaring gasoline prices, state lawmakers are looking at requiring more crop-based fuels to be sold in Colorado to help reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

Backers say it may also give drivers more chances to fill their tanks with cheaper E85 fuel, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Federal ethanol subsidies help keep the price of E85 as much as 80 cents a gallon less than gasoline in Colorado, but it is offered at only 10 pumps across the state.

“You’re not subject to the whims of what the dictator of Iran wants to do this week,” Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said,

The bill won initial backing in the Senate Monday, but critics said it could cause fuel shortages and could cost drivers more if ethanol prices rise or if drivers’ milage suffers.

The bill requires that 75 percent of gasoline sold in Colorado contain at least 10 percent ethanol, which is made from corn.

Currently about 70 percent of the gasoline sold in the state already meets that standard; it’s been required in Denver since 1988. To achieve the additional 5 percent, distributors could either produce more 10 percent ethanol blends or make more E85, which can be used by flexible-fuel cars and trucks made after 1998.

Legislative analysts say 10 percent blends may get 1 to 2 percent fewer miles per gallon while E85 can reduce mileage by an estimated 5 to 15 percent.

Rural Republicans joined with Democrats in passing the bill, which still has to be approved again by the Senate before being sent to the House.

Republican Sen. Greg Brophy, a corn farmer from Wray, said the requirement would benefit Colorado corn growers as well as a new ethanol plant in his district. Shaffer said five such plants are under construction on the state’s Eastern Plains.

Sen. Jim Dyer, R-Littleton, said the bill would mostly benefit agribusiness giants such as Archer Daniels Midland Co., which produces a third of the nation’s ethanol.

The bill lifts the 75 percent requirement if the cost of 10 percent blends of ethanol increase by more than a penny a gallon.

Dyer said once distributors are making the fuel, daily fluctuations in production costs would allow them to stop because that would mean flushing out refineries and starting from scratch. He said that would mean drivers would end up paying more at the pump.

Shaffer called that “wild speculation” because the federal subsidy has kept ethanol prices low. He said ethanol is competitive with gasoline whenever the cost of oil hits $45 a barrel. It was selling at about $73 a barrel on Monday.

The Western Slope, which doesn’t have any plants to blend ethanol with gasoline, is expected to be exempted from the proposal. Ethanol can’t be transported by rail or pipeline and the industry says there aren’t enough trucks to get ethanol to western Colorado.

Under the bill, any distributor can be exempt if it can prove it cannot build a facility to blend ethanol and gasoline by the end of the year.

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