Is the Open Fuel Standard a "Dangerous Scheme?"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Someone sent me an article by Robert Werner that harshly criticizes the Open Fuel Standard Act. Werner said the OFS bill is a "dangerous scheme we can do without." Below are my responses to various statements in the article. You can read his article here.

1. In the title, Werner calls the bill "Open Fuel Standardization Act," which is not its correct name, although he provides a link to the correct bill.

2. Werner writes, "H.R. 1687 would mandate that 50% of all new cars and light duty trucks produced by 2014 be engineered to run on some type of alternative fuel." This is somewhat misleading. In the context of the rest of the article, this seems to imply that the vehicles will not be able to also burn petroleum.

The Open Fuel Standard Act makes it clear that the only type of car no longer allowed to be sold is a car that perpetuates oil's virtual monopoly over transportation fuel. So a normal internal combustion engine vehicle would need to be warranted to burn ethanol and methanol in addition to gasoline.

This is a very simple engineering tweak. In fact, according to Robert Zubrin, our cars are already capable of burning all three fuels very well, except for one thing: The flex fuel software in the cars' onboard computer is missing or has been disabled. That's an easy and inexpensive thing to remedy. Read more about Zubrin's research here.

3. Werner writes, "Step aside, Free Market, Big Government coming through! If only 'We The People' weren’t so obtuse. Unwilling to do the right thing; passing over Chevy Volts in favor of Ford F-Series Pickups and Honda Accords. Shame, shame." Again, this is misleading and inaccurate. Ford pickups and Honda Accords could very easily burn ethanol, methanol and gasoline if they were legally warranted to do so.

After the Open Fuel Standard bill passes, if someone with a Ford F-Series Pickup wanted to burn nothing but gasoline in her truck, she would be able to do so. Gasoline would still be one of the many fuels she could fill up with. But she would have other choices too — choices we don't have now.

The main purpose of the OFS bill is to introduce a free market for America's most important commodity. What we have now is a virtual monopoly. Very few cars are sold that can burn multiple fuels, so very few fuel stations have the motivation to put in competing fuel pumps (and oil companies actively block them). Auto buyers have very little incentive to purchase a flex fuel car since there aren't many fuel pumps available with anything but petroleum. The result: No competition.

The Open Fuel Standard would break through this impasse and open up the fuel market to competition for the first time in a hundred years.

4. Werner writes, "Common sense in Washington dictates that we should burn food in our cars (Ethanol, Biodiesel)." Again this misleading statement ignores the many possible feedstocks ethanol and methanol can be made from, implying that the OFS bill would make everything unavailable except ethanol made from corn. He ignores ethanol made from municipal waste, switchgrass, miscanthus, corn stover, wheat and barley straw, and algae, to name just a few non-food crops ethanol is already being made from. And he ignores methanol, which can also be made from municipal waste, agricultural waste, coal, natural gas, and waste from the paper industry, to name just a few. 

5. Werner writes, "Think you’ll outsmart them by maintaining your current gas guzzling beast? Plan on camping out at the dealership for a chance to buy a rare, new gasoline burning car?" If he means a car that can only burn gasoline, he's probably right. But with the OFS, most cars could burn gasoline like just like they do now, and just as well.

We have about 9 million flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road in America, out of 250 million. According to the National FFV Awareness Campaign, a large percentage of people who already own an FFV don't even know it. They are buying gasoline, completely unaware that they have any choice. The vehicles are just as good at burning gasoline as any gas-only car, and buyers are often not even told that the car they're buying is anything different than what has always been available — a car that can only burn one fuel, a car that maintains oil's virtual monopoly over our nation's transportation fuel, a car that enables OPEC to control our economic destiny.

So once the Open Fuel Standard Act is passed, anyone who wanted to could completely ignore their new choices and stick to old-fashioned gasoline for the rest of their lives. They will have other choices, but they don't ever have to act on them. 

Robert Werner grossly misunderstood the Open Fuel Standard. And he's not alone. In our conversations, all of us need to do a better job of clarifying what this bill is and what it can do for America. Start here.

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