Only 750 filling stations out of 170,000 in the United States sell E85.
Justin Hyde - Detroit Free Press - June 13, 2006
Sixteen members of Michigan's congressional delegation called on President George W. Bush on Monday to pressure oil companies into setting a target for installing more ethanol filling stations by 2010, saying Detroit automakers are doing their part to improve the nation's energy security.
Congress and Bush have hailed ethanol as the fuel of the future in recent weeks, saying it could help alleviate the nation's reliance on foreign oil, cut greenhouse gases, create jobs in rural areas and perform other modern miracles.
Detroit's automakers have revved the bandwagon as well, touting the trucks they build for fuel economy credits that are capable of burning E85, a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.
But only about 750 filling stations out of 170,000 in the United States sell E85, according to the most recent data from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. More than 200 of those are in Minnesota, a hub of ethanol production; Michigan has nine filing stations that either sell E85 or are planning to do so soon.
In a letter to the president, the Michigan lawmakers say the domestic auto industry has already done its part to increase ethanol use by committing to build up to 1 million E85-capable vehicles a year by 2008 and that the onus should now be on oil companies.
"We strongly urge you to ask the major oil companies to commit to installing E85 pumps at a significant percentage of their owned and franchised stations and to seek from them a commitment to a specific target by 2010," the letter said.
White House spokesman Alex Conant said the president is working with Congress to reduce dependence on foreign oil and increase the use of ethanol.
"The president has called on oil companies to invest in renewable sources of energy to strengthen our economy," he said.
Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow signed the letter as did all of Michigan's House members except one -- Republican Vern Ehlers of Grand Rapids. Jon Brandt, Ehlers' spokesman, said the congressman didn't believe that asking the president to lean on oil companies would solve any of the problems ethanol faces.
"Currently there is a lack of supply and infrastructure for ethanol," Brandt said. "Simply asking oil companies to install pumps to deliver ethanol is not going to solve the problem."
Because ethanol holds less energy than gasoline, a vehicle burning E85 gets fewer miles to the gallon. Oil refiners that have switched to using small amounts of ethanol in regular gasoline had driven up the price of ethanol to $3.53 a gallon as of Friday, three times the price from a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The American Petroleum Institute has warned that ethanol could not be a viable substitute for regular gasoline until refiners find ways of making it from material other than corn.
It also has said its refinery members would not block franchise owners from installing E85 pumps but that such conversions can run up to $200,000 a station.
Last year's energy bill included a tax credit for filing station owners who add E85 pumps, but the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has yet to issue guidelines for the credit.