Lawmakers seek study of higher ethanol cap

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 11 -- Two leading US House Republicans have asked the Government Accountability Office to explore the impact of allowing more ethanol in gasoline.

Joe Barton (Texas), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, and Greg Walden (Ore.), who fills that post on the Oversight and Investigations Committee, made their request in a Dec. 9 letter to Gene Dodaro, GAO’s acting comptroller general.

The Environmental Protection Agency expects in mid-2010 to determine whether to raise the allowable ethanol content in gasoline to 15% from 10% in response to a request from Growth Energy, a biofuels industry association.

Barton and Walden said in their letter that an August GAO report, “Biofuels: Potential Effects and Challenges of Required Increases in Production and Use,” identified a number of challenges.

“Current automaker warranties on vehicles are voided if ethanol exceeds 10% of motor fuel,” they told Dodaro. “There are also concerns that higher blends, or even E10, as the GAO noted, could damage nonauto engines, such as boat engines and small engines for equipment such as lawn mowers, chain saws, and small tractors.”

Most gasoline distribution and storage systems are designed to dispense and store products with up to 10% ethanol. “Leak detection technologies used in underground storage tank systems have been developed for use for petroleum fuel and would need to be tested for performance with higher [ethanol content] fuel blends,” the lawmakers said.

Barton and Walden said another strategy which GAO identified was greater use of vehicles running on fuels with 85% ethanol and the development of related infrastructure, such as dedicated ethanol pipelines to transport ethanol from the Midwest to markets on the East and West coasts; dedicated tank system for storing E-85; and specialized pumps and dispensing equipment.

“As with increasing ethanol blend percentages, this strategy also may involve substantial costs and liabilities that have not yet been fully assessed or estimated,” they said.

They suggested that GAO investigate the extent of the federal government’s risk and associated liability if it allowed the use of intermediate ethanol blends which damaged vehicles and other equipment and systems, the key components of the nation’s motor vehicle and equipment fleets most at risk, durability and performance of vehicles and equipment with intermediate ethanol blends, and economic and other challenges to using dedicated ethanol pipelines.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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