States Slow to Pump Up Ethanol

  • As the price of gasoline rises, many states are looking for alternatives. One of those alternatives is the ethanol blend, E-85. But, some states (like Ohio) are not keeping up with the trend. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The federal government is focusing new attention on research and development of ethanol. Some states – especially those in the corn belt – are getting into the act too. The GLRCs Karen Kasler reports:


The federal government is focusing new attention on research and
development of ethanol. Some states – especially those in the corn belt –
are getting into the act too. The GLRC’s Karen Kasler reports:

Now that gasoline is near or above three dollars a gallon, ethanol seems
to be everywhere. The Renewable Fuels Association says more than a
third of the gasoline in the U.S is blended with ethanol, an alcohol based
fuel made with the sugar found in corn and other grains. A 10 percent
ethanol/gasoline blend can be used in every vehicle on the road, but
many politicians and consumers are very interested in the 85 percent
ethanol blend – E-85 – as an alternative fuel for cars and trucks. But
getting E-85 to drivers who have cars which can use it isn’t that easy.

Tadd Nicholson with the Ohio Corn Growers Association, says part of
the problem is the big oil companies have banned E-85 pumps under the
canopies at branded stations.

“Oil companies don’t own ethanol production. They own oil refining,
and so that’s their profit center and that’s where they get their fuel and so
they have a lot of control over that. They don’t own ethanol. I don’t
know why. They should, but they aren’t in the ethanol ownership
business yet. I say ‘yet’.”

The governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota have asked the big oil
companies to change their E-85 policy, and some states have been
encouraging independent gasoline dealers to put in E-85 pumps for a few

But others, such as Ohio, have been lagging behind in the trend. Only
recently has Ohio launched a new energy action plan that sounds
ambitious, when it comes to providing access to ethanol to drivers.

LeeAnn Mizer is with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“The goal is to triple the amount of E-85 pumps available to Ohio
consumers by the end of 2006.”

That sounds like a lot – but it’s not, says Dwayne Seikman heads up the
Ohio Corn Growers Association.

“Tripling’s a nice start. There’s six… that would go to 18. But with over
150,000 vehicles in the state of Ohio, that’s not enough to cover the

Since corn is Ohio’s top crop… it would seem to make sense. But unlike
other states in the corn belt, there are no ethanol plants in operation in
Ohio, though there are at least three under construction, and ethanol
supporters say the state is way behind its neighbors when it comes to
getting ethanol pumps at service stations.

Sam Spofforth is executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio.

“I’ll be honest, we’d like to see a lot more and we think a lot more is
certainly very possible. Indiana, they’re up to about 25 to 30 stations.
Illinois has over a hundred. Minnesota has almost 200 at this point.
Even places like Arizona are putting in E-85. They don’t make any corn
in Arizona. We think Ohio can do a lot more.”

Some critical studies have found that ethanol has a high energy cost with
low benefits – ethanol supporters say that’s been debunked. Whether
ethanol makes economic or ecological sense or not is still not certain.
But one thing is certain – cars using ethanol blends need to fill up more
than those using regular unleaded gasoline.

Robert White with the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition says that’s
offset because typically ethanol-blended fuels cost less than regular
unleaded gas.

“Well, no doubt the fuel economy is the only negative with E-85, and we
tell folks that is where the price differential hopefully is there to make
E-85 use a wash.”

Part of the reason the price is lower is because the ethanol industry is
heavily subsidized by the government. Those lower costs would quickly
disappear if the subsidies were removed. Because ethanol is cleaner
burning, many support further development and use of the renewable

General Motors is increasing the number of vehicles it produces that can
burn ethanol. Ford already produces E-85 burning cars and trucks.
However, many believe for ethanol production to be truly efficient,
farmers will have to start growing crops such as switch grass for ethanol
because corn requires too much fossil fuel based fertilizer and other
inputs to make it a permanent solution.

For GLRC, I’m Karen Kasler.

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Upgrading Tired Hospital Food

  • Two gourmet chefs managing the kitchen at St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth are adding organic vegetables to the menu. (Photo by Stephanie Hemphill)

Some hospitals are trying to heal the food that they serve. The GLRC’s Stephanie Hemphill takes us to one hospital that’s making efforts to spice up their menu:


Some hospitals are trying to heal the food that they serve. The GLRC’s
Stephanie Hemphill takes us to one hospital that making efforts to spice
up their menu:

(Sound of elevator)

St. Luke’s is the smaller of Duluth’s two hospitals. Their motto could be
“we try harder.” Several years ago, the hospital put two chefs in charge
of the housekeeping, laundry, and food.

In the kitchen, there’s the usual industrial stoves and dishwashers, and a
long assembly line where workers fill the trays for patients, based on
what they’ve ordered.

“The patient fills out the menu, I’ll have this entrée and that salad and this
beverage; then as the tray moves down the conveyor belt, they look at the
menu and put on the appropriate products.”

Mark Branovan was a gourmet chef at restaurants in California’s wine
country. In that part of the world, they take their fresh fruits and
vegetables very seriously.

“We did very little of our produce buying from the big distributors; we
had local guys that would grow lettuce for us, and herbs for us, and tomatoes…
anything we wanted. So that just kind of rolled over for us into, if
we can do it for a restaurant, why can’t we do it for a hospital?”

It’s harder to do in this part of the country, where you can grow lettuce
for about half the year and you’re lucky to get a tomato at all. But
Branovan and his colleague, LeeAnn Tomczyk, decided not to let that
stop them.

Tomczyk was a chef in a trendy restaurant in Wisconsin before she took
the job at the hospital. She says when she first came here, she was
appalled at some of the things on the menu.

“YOu know the patient was able to pick a jell-o salad and a piece of cake.
Well, to me jell-o is a dessert but to them it was their salad and that
was their vegetable, and that wasn’t right.”

Tomczyk and Branovan started to add more fruits and vegetables,
including organic items, to the menu, but they learned to pick their

“When I tried to change some of the casserole dishes, and some of the
traditional northern Minnesota fare, I was met with some serious
resistance from our customers and our patients who said, ‘Yeah, we have
tater tot hot dish on our menu because we like it.'”

One of the first items to change was the milk. Now the hospital serves
hormone-free milk to patients in the rooms and workers in the cafeteria.
Tomczyk says she’s convinced hormone-free milk and organic food are
healthier. She says an organization devoted to helping people heal, like a
hospital, needs to think about healing in broad terms, even globally. She
says buying local food avoids long-distance transportation, with its heavy
reliance on polluting fossil fuels.

“And the introduction of pesticides and herbicides, and that getting into
our water systems, it’s that whole cycle, and we’re using more and more
these days, and I think it’s just got out of hand.”

The hospital is also committed to reducing waste. It freezes unused
portions and gives them to soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It sends
its food waste to the city compost pile.

St. Luke’s is a member of a hospital buying group that negotiates prices
with big producers like Pillsbury. Each hospital is supposed to buy a
certain percentage of its food through the buying group. When Branovan
and Tomczyk asked the distributor for hormone-free milk, the distributor
didn’t carry it.

“We had to actually get a waiver that says they will allow us to buy off-

Branovan got a similar waiver to buy organic fresh fruit, and greens for
the cafeteria salad bar. He hopes to add more organic and locally-grown

Branovan says St. Luke’s is the first hospital in the region to ask the
buying group to supply hormone-free milk and organic vegetables, but
hospitals and schools on the west coast and east coast are doing it on a larger

James Pond is editor of Food Service Director, a trade magazine.
He says the movement will grow.

“The pricing advantages will in some ways level out, where if it becomes
important enough to the clientele, the food service operators will respond
by providing products in this manner.”

Some hospitals organize a farmer’s market to serve their workers, as a
way to introduce them to organic and local foods. Then they add those
foods to the cafeteria and patient meals. At St. Luke’s, they feature
organic food at company parties.

For the GLRC, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

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