EPA raises allowable ethanol limit to 15% with partial waiver

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 13 -- The US Environmental Protection Agency partially waived its 10% limit on ethanol in motor fuels, allowing up to 5% more for model year 2007 or newer cars and light trucks. Fuel ethanol advocacy organizations said the move fell short, while the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and American Petroleum Institute criticized it.

Gregory M. Scott, NPRA’s executive vice-president and general counsel, said EPA essentially abdicated its responsibility to safeguard the nation’s health and environment with its action. “This unwise and premature decision to allow the sale of gasoline with higher levels of ethanol may be good politics in Corn Belt states on the even of the midterm elections,” he said, “but it is bad news for every American who owns a car, truck, motorcycle, boat, lawnmower, chainsaw, or anything else powered by gasoline.”

“The large majority of today’s vehicle warranties only cover gasoline with up to 10% ethanol,” added API Downstream Operations Director Bob Greco in a separate statement. “More ethanol in gasoline could result in the voiding of customer warranties. EPA also seems to believe that a label on the pump will keep consumers safe from misfueling, but the impacts of misfueling are unknown until the necessary research is completed.”

Tom Bulis, chief executive of Growth Energy, the ethanol advocacy group that requested the waiver, called EPA’s decision “the first crack in the blend wall in more than 30 years,” but added that there’s no reason to limit E15 to 2007 or newer vehicles. “We urge EPA to quickly follow today’s announcement with the approval of E15 for vehicles 2001-06 and begin testing for legacy vehicles so that the American people can choose a blend of fuel that is proven to be better for our economy, our security, and our environment,” he said.

‘Unjustified bifurcation’
“EPA’s scientifically unjustified bifurcation of the US car market will do little to move the needle and expand ethanol use today,” Renewable Fuels Association Pres. Bob Dinneen separately said. “Limiting E15 use to 2007 and newer vehicles only creates confusion for retailers and consumers alike. America’s ethanol producers are hitting an artificial blend wall today. The goals of Congress to reduce our addiction to oil captured in the Renewable Fuels Standard cannot be met with this decision.”

In its Oct. 13 announcement, EPA said its action was the first of several that will be needed to make E15 gasoline blends commercial. Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said she reached her decision after reviewing US Department of Energy tests and other data on E15’s impact on engine durability and emissions. “Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks,” she maintained.

NPRA and organizations representing engine manufacturers have said that full tests have not been completed, and that such a conclusion is premature. “The ethanol industry has won a victory today by convincing the federal agency charged with protecting our nation’s public health and environment to disregard public safety and environmental issues, and instead base a major policy decision on inadequate engine test data that has not been made public or reviewed independently,” Scott said.

EPA said a decision on allowing E15’s use in 2001-06 model year vehicles will be made after the agency receives the results of additional DOE testing, which is expected to be completed in November. However, no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars and light trucks—or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or nonroad engines—because currently there is not testing data to support such a waiver. Since 1979, up to 10% ethanol, or E10, has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and nonroad vehicles, it noted.

Labeling pumps
EPA said several other steps are being taken to prevent use of the wrong motor fuel by consumers. First, it said that it would propose E15 pump-labeling requirements, including one that refiners and marketers specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. There would also be a quarterly survey of retail outlets to help ensure their gasoline dispensers are properly labeled, EPA said.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandated an increase of renewable fuels volumes in the US marketplace to 36 billion gal by 2022. Fuel ethanol production has been approaching its limit as demand started to level off as the 10% limit, which EPA established in 1979, approached a so-called “blend wall.” That prompted ethanol producers to seek a higher allowable limit.

Greco noted that API members have invested or committed more than $13 billion in biofuels. “However, EPA needs to be thorough in its examination of the impacts of higher levels of ethanol on both engines and gasoline station equipment,” he said.

Scott said NPRA will consider every option available to reverse EPA’s decision, which the trade association believes was ill-considered and politically motivated. “EPA is asking the American people to pump first and ask questions later, and to become guinea pigs in a giant science experiment that involves their vehicles, their gasoline-powered equipment, and their safety,” he said. “Instead of rushing to judgment to announce this decision today, EPA should have required the completion of thorough and objective scientific testing of increased ethanol in gasoline to protect millions of Americans.”

Dineen said tests already have shown that E15 can be safely used in older vehicles. “This decision continues to leave the market artificially constrained and further limits market opportunities for next generation biofuels very close to commercialization,” he said. “While we appreciate the work put into this waiver request, especially the 2-plus years of testing by [DOE], it is clear EPA is missing an opportunity to meaningfully increase America’s use of renewable fuels and reduce our dependence on imported oil.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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