Guest column: Beyond a reasonable doubt, ethanol is the safe option

Doug Sombke
President, South Dakota Farmers Union

As fuel prices decrease, farmers are seeing corn ethanol markets drop. What to do? Well, let’s hope we don’t see the price at the pumps go up. Instead, let’s use more ethanol.

What I’m suggesting is oil companies increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline — from the mandatory 10 to 30 percent.

And, my reasons are not purely economic. Without higher ethanol blends, a century of research shows the only way to better octane ratings is more carcinogens.

Let me explain. There’s no such thing as pure gasoline. Typical gasoline is made up of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent other petroleum products. And, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent are classified as highly toxic carcinogens. These aromatics include: benzene, toluene and xylene or BTEX.

These facts concern me. My mom passed away from cancer in 2008. Was it caused by benzene, toluene and xylene? We will never know.

And the government knows all about it. In fact, in the 1990 Clean Air Act, in an effort to minimize specific aromatic pollution or mobile source air toxics, Congress directed the EPA to control hazardous air pollutants to the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable.

Clean tailpipe emissions can be achieved with biofuels — like ethanol, specifically, E30. Research shows that E30 can be used in non-flex and flex fuel vehicles alike.

To put science into practice, Glacial Lakes Energy, an ethanol cooperative in Watertown, S.D., launched a campaign founded on education and economics. In return for every gallon sold, Glacial Lakes Energy donated 30 cents to the local Boys and Girls Club, up to $50,000.

Consumption went up by 600 percent. The campaign is over and Watertown drivers continue to fuel up with E30.

What’s the holdup?

The crux of this issue, to quote my friends at the Urban Air Initiative, “is that the EPA is relying on science that routinely and knowingly discounts the value of biofuels. Extensive research has shown that regulations are being implemented based on vehicle testing that uses fake test fuels. But, even if unbiased science was allowed to play out in these tests, the regulations that the EPA creates are prohibitive for development and production of any alternative to petroleum-based fuel products.” (Read more at

I received confirmation that EPA research and data is not complete from the man himself — EPA’s Christopher Grundler, director of the Office of Transportation and Air.

Our conversation was spurred by a December 15, 2017, Wall Street Journal article announcing the dangers of leaf blower emissions — saying they were more detrimental to air quality and our health than automobile emissions. The article quoted EPA data. (Read the Wall Street Journal article at this link:

Upon reading the article, I sent a letter to Grundler. He responded the same day! We corresponded regularly for the next few months.

Promoting the truth about the safety and efficiency of ethanol is a banner South Dakota Farmers Union flies proudly. Members of our organization (Orrie Swayze) helped launch the industry in South Dakota. Since the early days, our grassroots policy has supported the growth and expansion of the industry because ethanol is a renewable source of fuel that is safe and raised right here.

It not only helps our farmers who raise corn, feed the coproducts to cattle and their rural communities — ethanol could begin saving lives if the EPA will begin to follow guidelines of the Clean Air Act and hold oil companies accountable.

Throughout the 2019 Legislative Session, I’ll be writing quite a bit on this topic. We are entering a critical time to address this high priority topic as state and national government agencies welcome new leadership.

Let’s work together to share the truth about the health benefits of E30.

To learn more, visit the Clean Air Initiative’s website,