I’m puzzled by Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s sudden concern about the health effects of ethanol. Last month, LePage ordered the Maine Center for Disease Control and the state Department of Environmental Protection to study whether ethanol emissions are responsible for an assortment of ailments, including opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, asthma, higher crime rates, depression and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

One reason I’m puzzled is because LePage hates studies. For the past six years, he’s routinely vetoed any bill approved by the Legislature calling for any sort of studying, including for final exams. Now, he’s suddenly decided a study is urgently needed on an obscure topic he’s never before placed anywhere near the top of his agenda.

I’m also puzzled because, according to reliable sources, the governor is not inclined to shy away from ethanol, particularly when cocktail hour rolls around. I’m told he’s been known to imbibe distillates of corn and other grains with great enthusiasm. Perhaps, like me, LePage is only distressed when perfectly drinkable ethanol is diverted from the glorious task of producing whiskey, rum, gin and vodka to serving as a mere additive in gasoline.

According to the Portland Press Herald, LePage’s abrupt shift on ethanol – he vetoed a 2015 bill to study the effects of gasoline additives, calling such a measure potentially unconstitutional – may have been prompted by Ralph Stevens, a 77-year-old mechanic from South Berwick. While Stevens’ theories about the myriad afflictions that may be caused by ethanol have all the trappings of somebody who’s spent too much time huffing car exhaust from tailpipes, he does have at least a particle of credibility. Back in the 1990s, Stevens was among the environmental advocates calling for a ban on MTBE, a gasoline additive that polluted groundwater and – unlike ethanol – was of no use in mixing a decent martini. Perhaps his concerns shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Except maybe they should.

I’ve done extensive research (by which I mean I’ve read one newspaper article and searched the internet for nearly 15 minutes), and I’ve been unable to find any non-lunatic source that supports Stevens’ claims. (Those inclined to send me links to anti-ethanol articles written by certified whackjobs should note that the operative word in the previous sentence is “non-lunatic.”) While it’s debatable whether the federal mandate requiring the addition of ethanol to fuel is sound policy, there’s no evidence the stuff has ever turned anybody into a heroin addict or a Democrat.

Nevertheless, GOP state Rep. Beth O’Connor of Berwick told the Press Herald, “Mr. Stevens and I have been researching the corn ethanol issue for six years and have compiled thousands of pages of documentation that show clearly the government boondoggle this is.”

Back in 2011, O’Connor was one of just three legislators who voted against a bill to ban the use of the chemical BPA in children’s products such as sippy cups. The health claims against BPA were somewhat less specious than those against ethanol, but O’Connor’s opposition wasn’t entirely inconsistent with her current position. In an op-ed that year in the Bangor Daily News, she claimed the legislation was pushed through by Archer Daniels Midland, the company that was manufacturing a rival product and was “one of the biggest corn lobbies.”

She went on to say, “I speculate that Archer Daniels Midland is aware that the government boondoggle of corn ethanol in our fuel is being seriously questioned and it is likely they will need new products to cover the loss of the billions of dollars of government subsidies when people finally realize corn ethanol for what it is, wasteful.”

Also, the moon landing was faked, and Obama is a Martian.

(On her Facebook page and in the Press Herald story, O’Connor dismisses anyone who disagrees with her assessment by repeatedly telling them to “pound sand.” Isn’t that fracking?)

Getting rid of ethanol in gasoline would raise the cost of a gallon by about $1.30. But that might be a small price to pay for curing PTSD, crime and liberalism. And if it freed up lots of corn for other uses, it could drive down the amount we’re paying for beer and booze.

Suddenly, LePage’s newfound interest in banning ethanol begins to make sense.

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