ZYLA: Ethanol Is More Than A Little Controversial

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SAYRE, Pa. — There has been much written lately concerning the “greening” of motorsport, most of which is Ethanol related and aimed at IndyCar and NASCAR. Both run Ethanol; IndyCar in 100-percent form, with NASCAR moving to a Sunoco unleaded gas blend of 15 percent Ethanol this year.

Before some of the information is laid on the table, I am neither a scientist nor a politician.

However, after speaking with several influential people about my concerns over Ethanol’s use, it’s pretty clear the use of Ethanol in our race cars (and daily drivers, mind you) is way more political than it is “green.”

According to recent news, the corn crop in the United States is dropping, which will result in higher food prices for both humans and farmers who use corn-based feed for animals.

To incite perhaps even more curiosity over Ethanol’s use, “Mr. Greenjeans” himself, Al Gore, looks like he’s washed his hands of Ethanol. That surely rates as an indicator of Ethanol’s true “greenness” when it comes to internal combustion. Gore was the tiebreaking vote in the U.S. Senate that mandated the use of Ethanol in 1994. Since then, it’s been a political showcase of lobbying, earmarks and behind-the-scenes promises to ensure Ethanol’s use and thus extend our daily driver dependence on foreign oil and big oil company profits.

Rich Lowry, a syndicated columnist, recently noted that the whole Ethanol push “is a fraud, and that it has no environmental benefits and causes harmful side effects,” and that Gore pretty much called the fuel a mistake.

Still, our government has made a major commitment to Ethanol, with millions of gallons produced daily. Thus, Ethanol pretty much sustains our demand on gasoline instead of reducing our dependence.

Next thing you know, NASCAR racing is being cited in the news as “Earmarked for stimulus monies,” said to be $40 million.

Now, this may not be an Ethanol earmark by itself, but I think I know how a political stimulus earmark or favor works. I see an earmark as a “promise to give you this if I get that, in exchange with a nice donation to a cause, party or individual” tied to it. Today’s earmark for NASCAR gives the company the ability to produce a more favorable financial report, which dictates how a company writes off new capital, e.g., a race track or major capital race track improvement. This earmark, (see No. 317 in stimulus bill 4852 available on the Internet) shows that NASCAR’s earmark is a shorter, seven-year cost recovery period for a motorsports racing track facility, which may improve cash flow and make for better year-end company report card. It replaces a 10-year depreciation schedule, which the IRS mandated for NASCAR racing facilities.

This motorsports stipulation stems from an ongoing dispute between publicly owned speedway owners and the Internal Revenue Service, the latter of which said that race facilities should be subject to longer depreciation schedules, which would lessen the tax benefits for the track owner.

Could this stimulus and earmark favor be a reason NASCAR is moving to a 15 percent Ethanol mix in 2011? Additionally, there is already a play in hand for cars built from 2007 to use 15-percent blend if the policy makers can get it done.

Back to racing and green fuels. I like what is happening over at the ALMS and European racing organizations, where diesel, hybrid and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuels seem to be the hot ticket.

Those who continue the Ethanol push are finding that even though the fuel releases less carbon dioxide per gallon than gasoline, by the time you add in the farmer’s land to grow the corn and then the cost to process, Ethanol may not be the best choice. (This scenario comes way before some of the non-supporters bring up that corn “can be a food, too,” and that more than 35-percent of corn produced in the U.S. is consumed in Ethanol production.)

I truly believe in alternative fuels. But Ethanol is not the answer, and may actually be the worst of all. To me, the answer is CNG…compressed natural gas. This fuel can power our daily drivers and also be used in certain classes of racing. Then, we can run whatever fuel makes the best horsepower at the cheapest cost, gasoline included.

As for corn, it’s been served on the food table way before the first auto racing green flag waived.

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