Ethanol lobbyists to petition EPA to raise limit in gasoline to 15%

An ethanol lobbying group urged the US Environmental Protection Agency on March 6 to raise the limit on the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline to 15% from 10%. A coalition of trade associations immediately responded that a thorough scientific review should be completed first.

Raising the level would create 136,101 new jobs and inject $24.4 billion into the US economy annually, according to an economic report released by the group, Growth Energy. "Increasing the ethanol blend up to E-15 is a common sense solution to our economic, energy and environmental challenges," said Wesley Clark, a retired US Army general who became Growth Energy's co-chairman in February.

He said that the group would submit a formal request for a waiver to EPA. The federal agency needs only to determine that ethanol blends up to 15% of gasoline's total volume will not affect vehicles' emission control systems to approve the request, Clark said.

But the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and 12 other organizations and trade associations said that a thorough, science-based review is necessary to make certain that a higher ethanol blend doesn't damage motor vehicle and equipment engines, fuel-handing systems, storage tanks, and pollution control and safety equipment.

"To date, there has not been sufficient testing of motor vehicle and non-road equipment engines, such as outdoor power equipment and marine engines, to determine whether any mid-level ethanol blend would meet current federal air quality protection requirements or be safe for consumers to use," the groups jointly said.

Consumer safety concerns

"In fact, existing test results suggest that mid-level ethanol blends may not only be incompatible with most of today's vehicle and non-road equipment engines, but may actually lead to increases in emissions from these engines over their lifetimes. These test results also raise significant consumer safety concerns, as mid-level ethanol blends may defeat engine safety features and may contribute to engine unreliability and malfunction," they continued.

Growth Energy's petition would come after Congress dropped a similar provision from the Obama administration's economic stimulus package in February before sending it to the White House for the president's signature.

Nineteen organizations, ranging from some of the nation's leading environmental groups to engine and equipment manufacturers and including the American Lung Association and NPRA, asked US Senate leaders in a Feb. 5 letter to reject efforts to raise the ethanol level in gasoline.

"The adoption of such a provision would short-circuit the established and time-tested Clean Air Act regulatory structure for approving the introduction of new fuels and fuel blends into commerce, lead to increased air emissions from gasoline-powered engines, and potentially endanger consumers using those engines," they said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Clark and others at Green Energy's press conference said that ethanol has proven that it can be safely used in gasoline-powered engines since EPA first approved its use. "Vehicle fuel systems have been upgraded over the last 30 years to meet US regulations by rigorous testing against aggressive laboratory test results. These upgrades began in the '80s, which makes virtually all of the US legacy fleet fully capable of handling this relatively small change in marketplace fuel," said Michael Harrigan, a former Ford engineer who is an independent automotive consultant.

The group said that in addition to the economic benefits cited in its study, raising the allowable ethanol level in gasoline to 15% would reduce US imports of foreign oil by 7 billion gallons yearly, cut greenhouse gas emissions equal to removing 10.5 million vehicles from the road, and create a market for second-generation biofuels.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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