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Steve Hansen The lighter side: Corn-fed cars add up to a big load of bologna

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Steve Hansen

Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 12:00 am

"There's bad news and good news about your new pickup truck," the salesman told me. "The bad news is that it's not going to get the gas mileage of a Chevy Volt. The good news is that it will run on the cheaper 'Flex Fuel.'"

There are just a few stations in the area that offer this corn-based, E85 ethanol. One is in a small community just outside of Stockton. It has a billboard that advertises this government-subsidized fuel for about 60 cents per gallon cheaper than the same quantity of fossil-based regular.

"Hummm," I thought to myself. "If my new pickup averages 14 mpg, and if I do the math correctly, that's around a 15 percent savings. If gas is four bucks per gallon, that would be the equivalent of raising my average gas mileage to approximately 16 mpg."

I drove a few miles to get to this "in-the-middle-of-nowhere" station. My logic was sound: If it helped the environment and prevented drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, then the trip was worth the effort. I guess we could call the few extra pounds of emitted pollution needed to get to this E85 location, necessitated "collateral damage."

I drove under the yellow Shell sign and stopped at the "green" aisle. I was feeling pretty smug, knowing that my actions were saving the planet. With my nose in the air, I watched the other poor suckers paying much more for their fuel.

One guy filling his old Crown Victoria turned to me and said, "Don't you realize it takes six times more energy to make E85 than the finished product actually contains?"

I ignored the comment. I mean, how could our government leaders, with their well-informed wisdom, invest our money into something that was completely counterproductive?

As I headed down the road, I turned off the screen on the average mileage calculator. I wanted to be surprised at my next fill-up.

The following week, I pulled into the same station. I imagined all the wilderness caribou that would not have to hop over oil pipelines — thanks to the miracle of corn gas.

This time, a different comment came from the next aisle. "Corn prices in the grocery store have sure gone through the roof since they started making that stuff," the middle-aged woman opined.

"OK," I said, "but isn't it worth it if we can save the Earth for future generations?"

"Besides," I thought, "the taxpayers are paying billions to subsidize this product. Taking advantage of the situation is certainly acceptable in my rulebook."

I couldn't wait to see the difference on my fuel calculator. I clicked it on with anticipation and great hope.

"9.8 MPG AVE," the screen displayed.

"There must be a mistake!" I thought. "I'll fill up again for next week and see what happens."

This time, it was 9.6 mpg! A check of the owner's manual recommended E85.

"Do your part for the environment," it proclaimed.

On that same day, my monthly issue arrived from the nation's leading consumer magazine. It revealed the following: "When we've tested E85 (85 percent ethanol) we've seen about a 30 percent drop in fuel economy compared with E10."

After billions in borrowed money subsidies, skyrocketing food prices, and increased oil consumption to produce this alternative fuel, E85 still costs more than going to my local Cheap-E-Mart for regular, everyday gas!

So, I have to ask the obvious question: What's Washington's next move to save those cute, cuddly polar bears?

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.

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