May 15, 2013

Ethanol bill fuels debate in Maine Legislature

The chambers disagree on a bill that would – depending on other states' actions – ban ethanol.

By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – In an initial vote Wednesday, the Maine Senate rejected a bill that could eventually ban the use of ethanol in motor fuel sold in the state.

click image to enlarge

In this 2008 file photo, Brian McLaughlin, a field safety technician for Dead River Co., attaches an E-10 label on a gas dispenser at a Dead River Exxon station in Biddeford. In an initial vote Wednesday, May 15, 2013, the Maine Senate rejected a bill that could eventually ban the use of ethanol in motor fuel sold in the state.

Jack Milton / Staff Photographer

L.D. 115 would ban the additive from motor fuel in Maine if at least two other New England states prohibit it.

While the Senate voted 21-14 against the bill, the House voted 109-32 in support of it last week. More votes are pending to reconcile the difference between the two chambers.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, has made reducing the use of ethanol -- a corn-based additive that many say is harmful to small engines and older car engines -- a priority in this legislative session. 

Another one of his bills, L.D. 105, won initial passage by the House last week. It would allow the sale of gasoline containing only 5 percent ethanol, instead of the current 10 percent.

On the House floor last week, supporters of the bill argued that using corn-based ethanol is essentially putting food into fuel tanks. Opponents said that barring the sale of fuel with 10 percent ethanol would put the state at odds with the federal Clean Air Act. 

Arguments in the Senate on Wednesday took a similar track.

"I don't know how many stories I've heard about people having engines that were ruined" because of ethanol, said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. "Personally, I would pay a couple cents more (to buy fuel without it."

Most gas sold in the United States contains 10 percent ethanol. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has declared a 15-percent blend safe for engines and allowed its sale. Last week, the Maine House and Senate unanimously passed a resolution imploring the federal government not to mandate the sale of that blend.

Still, some senators thought Timberlake's ethanol-banning bill went too far, saying a few small states' banning of the additive would significantly raise fuel prices.

"It would have to be a boutique gas," said Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton. 

Referring to Jackson, he said, "I'm glad my good friend can afford to pay a few cents more, but I don't think his constituents want to pay 75 cents or 53 cents more a gallon."


Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:


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