Automakers Can Dodge Fuel-Economy Rules with Flex-Fuel Vehicles

U.S. automakers are dramatically boosting production of “flexible-fuel” cars and trucks that can run on either gasoline or E85, a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas that results in lower greenhouse gas emissions — but this trend is more likely to harm the environment than help it. Owners of flex-fuel vehicles almost always fill them up with gasoline because E85 is so hard to find — it’s sold at fewer than 150 of the estimated 176,000 gas stations in the U.S. Still, car manufacturers get credits toward meeting federal fuel-efficiency standards for every flexible-fuel vehicle they sell. Enviros say this policy lets automakers dodge fuel-efficiency requirements. Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found in 2001 that extending the policy without making ethanol-based fuels more widely available “will increase petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.” The current policy expires next year, but an energy bill now working its way through Congress includes a provision to extend the policy for four years.