Pinal Energy has earned our respect for launching Arizona’s first ethanol production plant in the right way.
Recognizing the public’s growing interest in using less fossil fuels, and a federal government willing to spend billions of dollars to inflate the demand for alternatives, a group of investors jumped in early to build a $74 million plant near Maricopa that in July started delivering ethanol made from corn.
The investors spent their own money without any government handouts in anticipation of market forces quickly breaking in their direction.
But Pinal Energy officials say several significant barriers, some created by government, are preventing ethanol-based fuels such as E85 from becoming widely accepted in Arizona. So the company is promoting a pair of bills making their way through the Arizona Legislature, as these officials recently explained in a meeting with the Tribune Editorial Board.
House Bill 2621 certainly deserves quick action from lawmakers. This legislation would direct the state Department of Weights and Measures to write new rules specifically allowing for the use of various biofuels following federal standards. Right now such rules are written directly into state statute, which makes it more difficult to keep pace with changes in fuel technology and new discoveries. Transferring this responsibility to the state agency that regulates fueling stations would lower the political hurdles to bringing new ethanol blends to Arizona drivers.
But we are far more skeptical about the second measure. HB2620 would create a state fund to provide grants for gas stations to install pumps for E85, a fuel blend that’s 85 percent ethanol. The Tribune’s Ed Taylor reported last month that only one station in Maricopa County offers E85, and other stations aren’t likely to add that fuel because of the expense of the equipment.
Currently, there’s no tax money appropriated to HB2620. Pinal Energy lobbyist Robert Shuler said the funding will be donated by private groups that potentially will benefit from ethanol sales such as biofuel suppliers and auto dealers.
But there are plenty of ways for businesses and philanthropists to influence private behavior through grants without involving government.
Foundations created by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are just two excellent examples of this.
The only reason to create a government grant fund is because someone is wishing — or expects — that taxpayers will be called on sooner or later to subsidize the program.
Ethanol already is heavily subsidized with our federal tax dollars, with much of the money going to corn farmers. The Legislature can keep this from getting any worse by rejecting HB2620.