Better use of political energy needed in state

Better use of political energy needed in state
First, the good news.

The price of gasoline is going down.

In recent weeks, the market price of a barrel of crude oil (and you can bet if it's being shipped to the United States, most of it was pumped in the Middle East) has been going down.

The fuel that at one time maintained a steady $3 per gallon price here now has dropped to just above $2.

The bad news?

We really didn't do anything to cause this price decline to happen. Oh, I suppose a few of us decided not to drive as much when gas was $3 per gallon. But ask yourself. Was traffic volume down considerably when gasoline was so expensive? Were there really that many vacations canceled? Or camping trips, or shopping excursions or travel to softball, baseball, volleyball and/or golf outings?

Not really. Gasoline prices are dropping now for the same reasons they spiked – a complicated assortment of market pressures that are forcing them in the direction they are heading.

If we are to assume industry malevolence in times of rising prices, we must accept a corresponding explanation for why oil companies would drop their prices. A sense of civic responsibility? Overloaded coffers? Guilt?

It's none of the above, of course. For the most part, they are simply adjusting prices according to market pressures.

We find it a bit curious that, at this time when pumping gas doesn't put such a strain on our pocketbooks, the South Dakota Democratic Party has decided to make political hay out of Gov. Rounds and ethanol.

Democrats make it sound like Rounds hates the stuff. Late last month, they released the results of an investigation that has been widely ignored statewide, despite the party's wish it would generate as much news as Foley-gate.

Democrats note that, despite Gov. Rounds' purchase of 251 E-85 ethanol vehicles (bringing the state's total of E-85 autos to 558), South Dakota hasn't really used that much E-85 fuel.

E-85 ethanol is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

There may be a good reason why we seem to be sipping rather than gulping E-85 ethanol. Despite the fact that we have new ethanol plants springing up all around us, we aren't exactly flush in E-85.

How many people do you know who drive a car powered by E-85 ethanol? Ten? Five? How about zero?

A Vermillion motorist with an E-85 car faces a unique problem. The fuel isn't sold here. An owner of such a vehicle would have to drive to Yankton, or Sioux Falls, or South Sioux City just to fill up.

There are other issues that state Democrats seem to conveniently ignore. Besides having to buy a new car or truck to use it (like Rounds did to keep a vocal minority happy) E-85 is currently found in 30 towns and cities statewide.

It contains less energy than gasoline, so you'd have to fill your tank more often.

"The technology and the economics aren't there yet" to produce enough ethanol for a massive switch to E-85, says Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a trade group that represents ethanol producers.

There are other limitations we must take into account.

After doubling in size, then doubling again the past few years, the ethanol industry consists of 95 U.S. plants that produced 4 billion gallons last year.

That's only enough to replace 3 percent of the 140 billion gallons of gasoline the United States burned last year. And it's almost ridiculously far from the 119 billion gallons of ethanol necessary for a nationwide switch to E-85.

There are more than 30 ethanol plants under construction nation-wide, and nine are being expanded. That will add about 1.8 billion more gallons annually but still leaves ethanol a bit player in the fuel game.

This means we need to roll up our sleeves and concentrate on three main areas: 1) Construction of additional ethanol plants; 2) Greater production and availability of E-85 ethanol; and 3) Efforts by automakers to produce more cars and trucks that can utilize the corn-based E-85 fuel.

None of this will be easy. It will take time – probably decades.

Instead of complaining, it's time for people of all political parties in South Dakota, and in this case, especially state Democrats, since they are whining the loudest, to get a grip on reality in terms of our energy policy.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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