It was the summer of 2011 and Congressman Peter Welch stood on the Moorings Marina deck in Colchester to rally for the elimination federal ethanol subsidies he said were spiking food prices and corroding small engines.
Nearly two years later, Welch returned to Colchester Friday — this time on the other side of town — and touted progress Congress has made in scaling back the program that was originally meant as a way to wean the United States off oil.
At the Small Engine Company in Fort Ethan Allen on Friday, Welch said there are other ways to de-emphasize oil in the U.S. economy. He has co-sponsored a bill that focuses resources on biofuels other than corn-based ethanol, such as algae and woodchips. Since his 2011 appearance at The Moorings, Congress has acted to end the subsidy to the ethanol industry that totaled $6 billion per year.
What remains is tackling the Environmental Protection Agency mandate that gasoline be mixed with ethanol. Currently a 10 percent mix is mandated, but that is scheduled to increase to 15 percent. Welch’s legislation would cap the mix at 10 percent while giving corn-based ethanol substitutes an opportunity to thrive.
“We’re making long overdue progress on ending ethanol subsidies,” Welch said. “This bipartisan legislation will remove another key underpinning of unnecessary taxpayer subsidies for the ethanol industry.”
As Adam Porter of the Small Engine Company explained, corn ethanol corrodes the innards of the equipment the company sells: lawnmowers, snowblowers, chainsaws and wood-chippers. James Ehlers of Colchester’s Lake Champlain International joined Welch and Porter at Friday’s news conference to speak to ethanol’s deleterious effects on boat engines.
“It makes the aluminum porous and makes the fuel go all over the place instead of where it’s supposed to go,” Porter said. “It’s costing consumers a lot of money unless they’re doing a real high level of maintenance. The smaller the product, the worse it gets.
“You hate to sell someone a new product that starts to have problems a year or two later.”
Ehlers called it “a little guy issue” against an entrenched ethanol industry.
“We are making progress and we are getting more and more support,” Welch said. “This bill has a real chance of moving.”
Welch said a bipartisan group of 40 Congressmen have signed to co-sponsor the bill. Each have people like Porter in the small engine business in their districts who rail against the ethanol mandate, he said.
Among the mandate’s unintended consequences, Welch said, is increased cost of doing business for dairy farmers, who rely on corn as feed for cattle. Corn prices have risen by more than 300 percent under the inflated demand caused by the ethanol mandate, he said.