EarthTalk: What is the Domestic Fuels Protection
Act of 2012 and why are environmental groups opposing it?
—William Bledsoe, Methuen, MA
green groups bemoan the recently-introduced Domestic
Fuels Protection Act because it would exempt highly
profitable producers of fuels and fuel additives
from liability for damage caused by their products
and push the burden of cost onto consumers.
© Hemera Collection
Domestic Fuels Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 4345) is a bill
that was introduced in the House of Representatives in April
2012 by a bi-partisan group of Congress members to protect
domestic producers of ethanol, biodiesel and other green-friendly
fuels from liability to end-users who put the wrong kind
of fuel or fuel mix into their tanks and damage their engines
and/or emit exaggerated amounts of pollution accordingly.
The idea behind the bill is to ensure that domestic “green”
fuel and related equipment producers aren’t forced
into dire financial straits or put out of business due to
crippling liability claims.
some feel that the fuel industry, whether its products are
environmentally friendly or not, should be held accountable
for damage its products may cause. Most recently, E15, a
fuel blend containing 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent
ethanol (a renewable crop-based fuel) came under fire for
causing engine damage in some older cars and trucks. The
EPA approved the use of E15 in 2010 after lobbying from
the ethanol industry, which seeks to up the ethanol content
of gasoline from what had been the standard of 10 percent,
which is much easier for gasoline engines to tolerate.
Auto Alliance, an industry group, recently released a study
claiming that upwards of five million cars on U.S. roads
today could be damaged if owners pump in E15 instead of
straight gasoline or even the milder E10 (10 percent ethanol,
90 percent gasoline). “Problems included damaged valves
and valve seats, which can lead to loss of compression and
power, diminished vehicle performance, misfires, engine
damage, as well as poor fuel economy and increased emissions,”
reports the group, adding that the potential costs to consumers
are significant. “The most likely repair would be
cylinder head replacement, which costs from $2,000-4,000
for single cylinder head engines and twice as much for V-type
and consumer advocates say that H.R. 4345 is a bad deal
for consumers who will be left footing the bill for these
repairs. The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG)
bemoans the bill because it would exempt hugely profitable
and already “favored interests” including fuel
producers, engine makers and retailers of fuels and fuel
additives from liability for damage caused by their products.
4345 is currently under committee review in the House, but
analysts doubt it will ever make it to a floor vote given
the contentious debate surrounding the fact that it puts
the burden of repair costs on end consumers. Users on the
govtrack.us website (which provides free and comprehensive
legislative tracking for everyday citizens) give H.R. 4345
only a three percent chance of passing. Meanwhile, the Senate
is considering a companion bill, the so-called Domestic
Fuels Act (S. 2264). But unless the House passes its version
first, the Senate bill is unlikely to gain much traction.
EarthTalk: What exactly is the federal government’s
Recreational Trails Program and is it true that it’s
on the chopping block?
—Randy Caldwell, Lyme, NH
Congressionally mandated Recreational Trails Program
was in jeopardy due to budget cuts, but its backers
in Congress announced this past July that it would
be retained to the tune of $85 million in funding
Trails Program (RTP) is a federal assistance program that
helps states pay for the development and maintenance of
recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both
non-motorized and motorized recreational trail uses. The
Congressionally mandated program was in jeopardy due to
budget cuts, but its backers in Congress announced this
past July that RTP would be retained to the tune of $85
million per year as part of the new surface transportation
agreement law called MAP-21. Minnesota Democratic Senator
Amy Klobuchar was instrumental in the retention of RTP by
introducing it as an amendment to MAP-21 as a stand-alone
program with its own dedicated funding.
allocates $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 to
improve safety, reduce traffic congestion, maintain infrastructure
and improve the overall efficiency of highway transportation.
RTP is one of several provisions of MAP-21 that bolster
transit, bike and pedestrian programs across the country.
Funding for the
RTP portion of MAP-21 comes from a portion of the motor
fuel excise tax collected across the country from non-highway
recreational fuel use in snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles,
off-highway motorcycles and off-highway light trucks, and
comes out of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. Half of the
RTP funds are distributed equally among all 50 states, and
half are distributed in proportion to the estimated amount
of non-highway recreational fuel use in each state. Individual
states are responsible for administering their own RTP monies
and soliciting and selecting qualifying projects.
That said, the
use of RTP funding is restricted to maintenance and restoration
of existing trails, development and rehabilitation of trailside
and trailhead facilities and trail linkages, purchase and
lease of trail construction and maintenance equipment, construction
of new trails, acquisition of easements or property for
trails, and assessment of trail conditions for accessibility
and maintenance. RTP funding may not go toward property
condemnation (eminent domain), construction of new trails
for motorized use on federally managed public lands or for
facilitating motorized access on otherwise non-motorized
States must allocate
30 percent of their RTP funding for motorized trail use,
30 percent for non-motorized use, and the remaining 40 percent
for so-called “diverse” (motorized and non-motorized)
trail use. Projects may satisfy two categories at the same
time, giving states some flexibility in how to allocate
their share of the RTP pie. States can use up to five percent
of their funds to disseminate related publications and operate
educational programs to promote safety and environmental
protection related to trails.
across the country are thrilled that Congress extended RTP,
which began in 2005 with a $60 million allocation and was
increased each of the following years until it plateaued
at $85 million in 2009. The continuation of the $85 million
allocation was also good news to those who feared that if
it wasn’t cut entirely it would be scaled back significantly.
With new funding for the next two years, Americans can look
forward to the creation of many new trails and continued
maintenance of existing ones.
Trails overview of RTP funding.