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Editorial: Hold off on ethanol hike

Editorial: Hold off on ethanol hike

Make sure upping the ante won't ruin people's cars

If there weren’t enough reasons for the government to reconsider its commitment to raising ethanol levels in gasoline over the next couple years, it ought to consider the preliminary results of recent auto industry tests which reportedly showed engine problems in roughly half of all cars that were run with a 15 percent ethanol/gas mix. That’s the concentration — 50 percent higher than current — that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to endorse to keep the nation’s renewable fuel quota on track. However valid that quota may be, there’s no point in damaging millions of cars to meet it.

The automakers’ trade group has asked the government to delay implementation of the new standard until more thorough testing can be conducted. An extra year or so would be prudent given what’s at stake — burnt-out catalytic converters and engine cylinder damage, either of which could require costly repairs.

In fact, it’s disturbing that the government didn’t think about doing this kind of study before it embraced higher concentrations of the corn-based fuel additive as a way to reduce oil consumption. Granted, ethanol has always been a politically attractive issue in the Farm Belt, but it hardly matters how many farmers it makes happy if it hurts millions of motorists.

It’s also not the environmental miracle some people have touted it as: While it reduces carbon emissions, it elevates smog levels. It has also led to an overplanting of corn, depleting the soil and reducing the size of other, healthier crops. And though it’s probably helped reduce gas prices a bit, it’s driven food prices higher.

The government should keep ethanol levels in gas right where they are until it’s certain that raising them won’t create havoc on the nation’s motor fleet.

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