Brussels and the bioethanol boondoggle

Strict limits on vehicle emissions which take effect in the USA later in the 1990s are posing a major headache for the oil and car industries. Tests with cleaner fuels, including petrol containing oxygenates such as ethanol, are showing that air quality goals will be difficult to achieve. Undaunted, the European Commission has proposed massive tax incentives for large-scale production of ethanol from crops for use as a vehicle fuel. Its claims that bioethanol will cut carbon dioxide and other emissions are being hotly contested - and are also being opposed on rural conservation and economic grounds.

Not so long ago the control of vehicle emissions appeared to be a straightforward task. In Europe, successive legislation to curb emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhausts was based on incremental improvements in engine technology, providing manufacturers with a predictable and undemanding regulatory agenda.

Expanding agenda
The past few years, however, have seen an explosion in the num

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