Oregon legislature compromises GA safety with new ethanol law

I believe it was Mark Twain who once said that nothing is safe when the legislature is in session.


I believe it was Mark Twain who once said that nothing is safe when the legislature is in session.

Well, the state of Oregon just passed House Bill 2210, which requires that once ethanol production in the state reaches 40 million gallons per year, all gasoline, whether leaded or unleaded, must be blended with at least 10% ethanol. It is important to note that the only leaded gasoline sold in Oregon is 100LL and the bill does not exempt avgas.

Now I understand that the Oregon legislature is just trying to help the farmers and clean up the environment. And I applaud them for their efforts. But sacrificing safety for a good goal is just “”plane”" wrong.

This leaves us with four possible reasons for such a gross violation of accepted safety standards: First, the Oregon legislature is hoping to get rid of all of the pesky little general aviation aircraft in the state. Evidently the number of citizens involved in general aviation is not a big enough voting bloc to have a significant effect on upcoming elections.

Second, the Oregon legislature thinks itself so powerful that it can legislate the laws of physics. It must believe that if it passes a law, all of the known scientific knowledge will be amended so that their new law will work perfectly with no problems.

Third, the Oregon legislature does not care if there are a few general aviation accidents. One of the problems in general aviation is that small planes are not “”crowd killers”" like commercial airliners. This means that when the new law causes a “”few”" general aviation accidents, no one will notice. I assume they are hoping that the number of accidents will be low enough, and that Paris Hilton gets married, so the national news services will not look into the problem.

The fourth possible reason is that the Oregon legislature believes that all of the information the ethanol lobbying group puts out is absolutely true ? and that real science just confuses everyone so should be disregarded. Besides, the farmers are all for ethanol and they vote.

The real irony of this whole process ? and the point that bothers me the most ? is that almost all general aviation aircraft have a manual mixture strength control. We set the mixture strength based on engine smoothness, EGT or RPM drop. Ethanol reduces emissions because it has a lower stoichiometric air/fuel ratio than a straight hydrocarbon fuel, so in an aircraft engine, the pilot will just richen the mixture to compensate for the fuel change. The net effect will be that emissions from the engine will be basically the same with or without the ethanol. This means that Oregon legislators are willing to seriously compromise every pilot’s safety for no benefit to anyone except their own political careers.

Ben Visser is an aviation fuels and lubricants expert who spent 33 years with Shell Oil. He has been a private pilot since 1985. You can contact him at Visser@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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