Corn Gives Idaho Gas! 

Lawmakers push for more breathing room

Choking on that smog? Some green-thinking lawmakers want to lift that haze and fill your gas tank with a little more homegrown power.

Lawmakers backing a bill that calls for an ethanol blended standard in gasoline say automobiles powered by the mix could put a dent in air pollution and lessen the state's dependency on foreign oil. And Idaho farmers see green in the grain- and corn-derived gasoline additive that some local gas retailers already sell.

The bipartisan proposal unites environmental concerns with economic interests, touting the cash flow produced by in-state ethanol manufacturing and the bio-fuel's pollution solution. If lawmakers give the bill their OK, 10 percent ethanol would be part of what you pay for at the pump.

State environmental watchdogs say a boost in ethanol use could reduce the amount of unhealthy emissions that sometimes blanket the Treasure Valley. "Our air quality is very dependant upon weather," says June Hues, air shed manager with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality. Feel a winter chill? Look up and you may see the gray shade of an inversion. And during summer months, the heat-dependent ozone produced by car emissions spikes. But Hues says one thing stays the same: "We create pollution every single day."

Ethanol gas additives serve as an oxygenation compound by boosting oxygen levels reduced by ozone gas associated with petroleum emissions. Heavily polluted regions that air quality boards consider ozone non-attainment areas often face mandates to reduce output of the volatile organic compound. And those mandates sometimes appear at the pumps. Reducing gasoline volume offers one solution to ozone pollution but that fix also reduces the efficacy of fuel. Adding ethanol to gasoline amplifies the petroleum power and could help improve oxygen levels in the air, according to the DEQ.

Last year, lawmakers shot down an ethanol bill that drew concerns from AAA, hot-rod motorists and folks concerned about the effect of additives on their engines. Some lawmakers called the measure too restrictive. "I was opposed to the bill. I helped kill it along with others in committee," says Sen. David Langhorst (D-Boise). "The idea of a mandate is a little heavy for me."

Langhorst and almost a half dozen lawmakers signed on as sponsors of this year's legislation that has the backing of the Farm Bureau, lovers of clean air and a host of folks positioned for economic gain from the production of ethanol.

"I suppose the oil companies will strongly oppose it," Langhorst says.

One of the state's major oil lobbyists, Idaho Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, took a neutral position on the legislation. Other Idaho oil lobbyists did not respond to BW's request for an interview by press time.

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