EPA extends E15 waiver to 2001-06 model year cars, trucks

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 21 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency extended a waiver allowing higher ethanol concentrations in fuel for 2007 and later model year cars and trucks to 2001-06 model year vehicles. But it added that no waiver will be granted for fuels with up to 15% ethanol for use in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles or nonroad engines because current test results do not support it.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said she made the decision after reviewing thorough tests by the US Department of Energy and other available data on E15 effects on emissions from the older cars and light trucks. “Whenever sound science and the law support steps to allow more home-grown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps,” she said.

The American Petroleum Institute and National Petrochemical & Refiners Association separately criticized EPA’s action extending the waiver it approved on Oct. 13 for 2007 and newer model year cars and light trucks. Ethanol advocacy organizations applauded the latest move, but said that EPA still needed to go further.

“An interim report by the auto and oil industries released just this week has revealed potential performance problems that require further testing before E15 can be deemed safe to use in vehicles,” said Bob Greco, API’s downstream operations director. “EPA is choosing to ignore the potential red flags in its headlong rush to extend a premature waiver.”

Wrong in three ways
NPRA Pres. Charles T. Drevna said EPA has acted without adequate scientific evidence. “Widespread use of 15% ethanol in gasoline could cause engine failures that could leave consumers stranded, injured or worse, and hit consumers with costly engine repairs. It’s the wrong decision, at the wrong time, made for the wrong reason,” he maintained.

But Growth Energy, the ethanol advocacy group that originally sought a waiver in 2009 to increase allowable ethanol motor fuel limits to 15% from 10%, said in a Jan. 21 statement that a full move to E15 creates a bigger market for American ethanol that could help create as many as 136,000 new jobs in the US and eliminate as much as 8 million tonnes/year of greenhouse gas emissions from the air—the equivalent of taking 1.35 million vehicles off the road.

Tom Buis, Growth Energy’s chief executive, said with engine and emissions testing now completed on 2001-10 model year cars and trucks and showing no issues with using E15 as a fuel, EPA should extended its approval to even older vehicles to further reduce US dependence on foreign crude oil. “Increased use of ethanol will strengthen our energy security, create US jobs, and improve the environment by displacing conventional gasoline with a low-carbon fuel,” he said.

Renewable Fuels Association Pres. Bob Dineen noted that while EPA’s announcement will increase the time frame in which the waiver will cover most vehicles on US highways, labeling issues and misfueling issues still need to be addressed. He said RFA has suggested changes in EPA’s proposed label for E15, and is continuing to work with gasoline retailers to get Congress to pass legislation addressing misfueling concerns.

Addressing issues
As with any new fuel, additional testing and some regulatory issues relating to the fuel’s properties must be addressed before widespread E15 use can occur, Dineen said. RFA is working to address those issues and accelerate E15’s commercial use, he indicated.

API’s Greco said vehicle and service station equipment testing has revealed potential safety and performance problems that require further testing before E15 can be deemed safe. For example, he noted, recent DOE infrastructure testing of new and used retail gasoline station equipment resulted in more than half of the equipment failing, showing that there are serious issues with using any equipment not specifically certified for E15.

“Today’s decision is even shakier than the original decision because comprehensive vehicle testing of E15 by automakers and the oil industry is not yet complete,” Greco said. “Furthermore, EPA bypassed formal notice-and-comment procedures in making this decision. It simply placed DOE’s test data in the docket and made their decision less than a month later without reopening the comment period. EPA is putting more American consumers at risk by approving the use of E15 without knowing the consequences it could have.”

“We urge President Obama to reverse EPA’s decision,” said NPRA’s Drevna. “Unless the use of a 15% ethanol blend in gasoline is shown to be safe for all engines as a result of thorough, objective, and independent scientific testing, it should not be approved for any engines. We will continue pursuing our lawsuit against EPA on this issue to protect consumers and ensure the safety of the gasoline they rely on.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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