Rep. Peter Welch is renewing his call to repeal a federal law that mandates that most gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol.
Welch says the ethanol mandate has been an environmental and economic disaster and is wreaking havoc on the small engines that Vermonters use for work and recreation.
Welch made his point by taking a 30-mile snowmobile ride around central Vermont with a half dozen members of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.
VAST and a number of other recreational groups are endorsing a bill sponsored by Welch to roll back the federal law that mandates that most gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol.
In the decade that the mandate has been in effect, there have been thousands of complaints across the country that the ethanol has clogged fuel lines and resulted in major engine damage.
Mike Beaudet of Gilles Sales & Service in East Montpelier explains one of the many problems with ethanol.
"It also eats some of the rubber parts that weren't designed to be used with this type of ethanol, so we have ... in the snowmobile business, a lot of rubber parts that fail; [that's] one of the big problems," said Beaudet. "The outboard motor world is the same way — just throughout the, you know, any of the small engines."
Danny Hale, the executive director of the Vermont ATV Sportsman's Association, says it can be very expensive to repair engines damaged by ethanol.
"Especially with my later model fuel-injected four-strokes,” said Hale. “You treat the fuel, which costs you additional money and it doesn't always work, so then you have to go see Mike and easily enough spend a couple-, three-, five-hundred dollars just to clean the machine out so it'll run again."
Matt Tetreault, the administrator of the VAST trail system, says the ethanol mandate can raise safety issues for snowmobilers who are out in the elements.
"Riders should be able to go out when there's snow and fire up their machine and have it run and have it reliable out on the trails so they can have a good ride and get back safely," said Tetreault.
Welch says the federal ethanol mandate is an example of how a seemingly good idea can turn into very bad public policy.
"It was intended to grow corn, turn that into ethanol and have it be a clean fuel,” said Welch. “It's turned out to be a well-intended flop."
Welch says there are several other compelling reasons to eliminate the ethanol mandate.
"Number one: the energy used to create corn-based ethanol is greater than the energy saved. Number two: it's had real environmental consequences; it's caused enormous overplanting in the grain belt and the loss of habitat,” said Welch. “Third: it’s had a big impact on prices on consumers when they're buying food."
Welch says he's encouraged that consumers groups, like VAST, are getting involved in this issue.
"More and more people are speaking out about it 'cause they're just having trouble with their engines. ... Now you've got this very unusual coalition of some environmentalists and even some oil companies that are pushing to get rid of this mandate," Welch said.
Welch says a group of pro-ethanol members of Congress want to increase the percentage of ethanol from 10 to 15 percent. He says his current goal is to make certain that that bill doesn't pass.
Once he has achieved this goal, Welch says he'll work to completely eliminate the ethanol mandate.