Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The ethanol mandating craze

Guess what, Wisconsin. You are not alone. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an interesting article on the attempts to mandate ethanol in Illinois (and to a lesser extent, Missouri). Illinois' pending mandate would require that 10% of gas sold in the state be ethanol by 2008 and 15% by 2012. In Missouri, a movement is afoot to require that all gasoline be a 10% ethanol blend by 2008.

There seems to be a couple of silver linings to the proposed Illinois law. First, while the state will invest in ethanol research, it will cut back on subsidies of the fuel. If ethanol proves to not be cost efficient in Illinois, you can bet Springfield will get an earful about it. Second, the mandate may yet be changed to a "goal". Goals, in the political world, are created to not be met. This is another nice safety should the ethanol blends not prove popular in Illinois. If the goals are not met because the market rejects the ethanol blend fuels, then the legislature in Illinois will have to reconsider this when the goals are not met on schedule. Here in Wisconsin (and soon, Missouri), that safety will be gone because there will be no choice for consumers or retailers. They will be locked into their ethanol blends.

Ultimately, I would prefer that all three states let their citizens decided on ethanol's benefits with their pocketbooks and not make purchasing decisions for them with rigid laws. Wisconsin (and possibly Missouri) politicians could be on the brink of making a huge political mistake by not leaving themselves the easy outs in their ethanol laws that Illinois lawmakers are trying to work into their bill. Maybe Illinois lawmakers are just savvier at the CYA game than Wisconsin lawmakers are. If Wisconsin legislators are ready to mandate ethanol, I hope they are ready for the political backlash when it blows up in their face. Personally, if I were a politician with an eye on my next election or the election after that, I'd rip this bill up and make sure there were some easy outs built in, just in case.

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