‘Pink Out’ Ethanol Charity a Mixed Brew

gas cap with warningNext Monday marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), during which many companies have pledged to donate a portion of profits for breast-cancer research. Among these organizations is Growth Energy, the advocacy group behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2011 decision to allow more ethanol into fuel sold at pumps across America. Growth Energy has partnered with Sheetz, Minnoco, Protec and Murphy USA for its annual Pink Out campaign, which covers nozzles for E15, gasoline with 15% ethanol, in pink to indicate they would donate 2 cents for every gallon sold.

The BCAM campaign generates billions overall for this vital cause. And if you’re fueling up a car of the year 2001 or later, Growth Energy’s program sounds reasonable. You might already be fueling up with E15 now and then, and you probably won’t notice the slight reduction in mileage from using a higher percentage of biofuel. But in its pitch for the Pink Out program, Growth Energy isn’t giving you the whole story. The organization claims that burning gasoline harms the environment and releases harmful gases, though the main selling point for ethanol, reduced carbon-dioxide emissions, has not stood up to scrutiny.

Outdoor gear at risk
Gassing up your vehicle is one thing; the latest fuel systems should be able to handle it. For anyone filling up a gas can for use in outdoor power equipment, however, it’s another matter. Gasoline in general can cause engine trouble if left sitting for long periods. Yet the ethanol mixed in makes engines run hotter, stiffens rubber and plastic parts, and attracts water, which at the very least hinders starting.

Manufacturers accept that their customers will use gas with 10% ethanol, E10, which is found across the country. If you use E15 in outdoor power equipment and hit trouble, though, any repairs won’t be covered by your products’ warranties—which is why you’ll see plentiful warnings to use gasoline with no more than 10% ethanol. (You’ll need them; the EPA’s pump label is not prominent.) Turning a gas nozzle pink doesn’t make it a win-win on your end, but you won’t hear that from Growth Energy or other groups running similar campaigns.

Purchases that truly help cancer research are unassailable. But if you’re going to fuel up outdoor gear, your boat or anything else with an engine smaller than an car’s, steer clear of E15 fuel. Use a list like this one from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to “shop pink” every October. Or donate year-round, no strings attached.

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When Lawn Mower Makers Played Ball

Baseball and a lawn mowerIt’s easy to criticize the federal government these days, with politicians seeming to invite abuse in every way short of wearing “Kick Me” signs on their backs. But the approaching World Series brings to mind one thing the feds got very right. Had they done so 30 years earlier, they could have altered the outcome of one particular baseball championship.

Curt Simmons was one of the Philadelphia Phillies’ top pitchers in the early 1950s, and in 1953 the team’s prospects looked good for making it into postseason play. In early June of that year, however, Simmons slipped while mowing his lawn. His foot slid beneath the mower deck, and he lost part of his big toe and injured other toes. Somehow, he returned just a month later, after weeks of therapy. Although the lefty later downplayed the effects of that accident on his performance, his ERA that year was 3.21—compared to 2.81 the previous year. The Phillies tied for third that year.

Safe at home

The potential hazard of sliding beneath a mower deck is one part of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s mandatory safety requirements, which took effect June 1982. As part of the standard, a foot-like probe must not have room to slip beneath and contact the whirring blade. This would likely have prevented Simmons’ accident.

Lawn Boy lawn mower
Credit: The ROP Shop and Ebay

Also very important is that an automatic brake must stop the mower blade in three seconds from when the operator lets go of the handle-mounted control bar. Some mowers have a blade-brake clutch, which stops the blade but not the engine when the operator releases the control. Whether or not the engine stops, the operator should be protected. But the original standard as written would have required all mowers to have a blade-brake clutch. Manufacturers objected over the prospective costs of adding this feature across their lines; having a blade-brake clutch is also a matter of convenience, not of safety. Either way, the resulting standard has made us safer.

We might consider today’s ballplayer salaries out of this world, but one welcome result is that no ballplayer today has to cut his own grass. If he still wants to? He has the government in part to thank for his safety.

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