Welch digs in against ethanol

Congressman visits Essex to garner support for changing federal mandate

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By Jason Starr
The Essex Reporter

Congressman Peter Welch, left, joined Lester Pelkey of Frank’s Motorcycle Sales and Service in Essex on Monday to highlight what ethanol-blended gas is doing to engine parts. PHOTO | JASON STARR

Congressman Peter Welch, left, joined Lester Pelkey of Frank’s Motorcycle Sales and Service in Essex on Monday to highlight what ethanol-blended gas is doing to engine parts.
PHOTO | JASON STARR

Congressman Peter Welch has chipped away at the federal program that mandates ethanol be mixed with gasoline at up to 15 percent, and he is ready to deliver the program a final blow.

On Monday, Welch set up at Frank’s Motorcycle Sales and Service on Route 15 in Essex with owner Lester Pelkey to highlight one of the program’s primary unintended consequences — the corrosion ethanol causes in engines. Pelkey illustrated the problem in the engine parts he services and said repairs typically cost several hundred dollars.

“The consumer is being asked to pick up the bill of (the United States) doing ethanol,” Pelkey said. “It’s affecting thousands of vehicles.”

Welch calls the program “a well-intentioned flop.” Two years ago, he appeared at The Small Engine Company in Colchester — a dealer of snowblowers, lawnmowers and chainsaws — to deliver a similar message. Since then, he has helped legislate two of the three key pillars of the federal ethanol program out of existence. They include the federal subsidy to corn famers that once totaled approximately $6 billion annually as well as the tariff barrier that fended off competition.

All that remains to end the program is the mandated 10-15 percent ethanol mix in retail gasoline. Already, Congress has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to hold off on a planned move from the current 10 percent standard to the 15 percent standard.

“We’ve really been making progress on it,” Welch said.

While ethanol-blended gasoline was intended as a cleaner fuel, the consequences of the federal mandate has made the program an overall negative on multiple fronts, according to Welch. It has raised prices on corn, squashed incentive to diversify cropland and is less fuel-efficient, he said. In addition, its corrosive effects have cropped up nationwide.

“Ask any mechanic and you’ll get an earful on the serious damage being done to the engines of snowmobiles, chainsaws and boats,” Welch says in a press release from his office in advance of the Monday appearance.

Welch believes the bill he co-sponsored to end the ethanol mandate (H.R. 704) would pass in the House of Representatives if Republican leadership can be convinced to bring it to a vote. But with the key beneficiaries of the program based in the Midwest, politicians with presidential aspirations have been reluctant to make changes, he said, because the first presidential primary contest is in Iowa every four years.

“There is a big lobby for it because it’s worked for the Midwest corn farmers,” Welch said. “I’m in favor of making the change gradual. We want it to be a gentle path to a transition.”