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Warning labels inadequate to prevent E15 misfueling, NPRA warns

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 17 -- Proposed US Environmental Protection Agency pump labeling regulations won’t be enough to keep motorists from dispensing gasoline with 15% ethanol into vehicles that aren’t designed to use it, a National Petrochemical & Refiners Association official testified at an EPA public hearing in Chicago.

“E15 will find its way into older vehicles, small engines, and boats with dire consequences for personal safety, irreversible engine damage, consumer confusion, operational problems, loss of manufacturers’ reputations, and warranty arguments,” Gregory M. Scott, NPRA’s executive vice-president and general counsel, said in prepared testimony on Nov. 16. “The risks are large and daunting.”

But the chief executive of GrowthEnergy, the ethanol advocacy group that petitioned EPA to increase the allowable ethanol limit in gasoline to 15% from the 10% limit which has been in place since 1979, said he was confident that E15 could be added to the US fuel market safely and without problems.

“We recognize EPA’s vast experience in introducing new fuels into the commercial marketplace and we appreciate the effectiveness of proper labeling, documentation, and public education. We believe EPA can design a label that is objective and educational,” Tom Buis said in a statement following the hearing.

“This is not the first time this has happened,” Buis continued. “Many consumers today are required to use premium fuel, and diesel drivers have a bifurcated market that requires them to be educated about their fuel choices at the pump. Consumers are capable of reading a label. They have been doing it for years.”

EPA partially waived its 10% limit on ethanol on Oct. 13, allowing up to 5% more for model year 2007 or newer cars and light trucks. It said at that time that 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 there was not testing data to support such a waiver.

Labels and survey
It also said 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.

“American families, farmers, truckers, and businesses rely on NPRA members millions of times every day to provide affordable, reliable, and safe fuels for use in their gasoline-powered on-road and nonroad engines,” Scott testified. “EPA’s partial waiver decision undermines this reliance. EPA’s proposed misfueling rule is woefully inadequate to guard effectively against the potential harm that consumers will experience due to the E15 partial waiver.”

He said it is inevitable that many consumers will misfuel either intentionally, due to price differentiation or a quality perception, or unintentionally, due to confusion or not paying attention, if E15 becomes available at retail outlets with only a warning label on the dispenser.

“NPRA asks EPA to convene a roundtable discussion of appropriate stakeholders—separate and apart from this public hearing—to discuss misfueling concerns and possible strategies to prevent misfueling,” Scott added. “Such a stakeholder roundtable should be conducted prior to the close of the public comment period on the proposed rule to provide stakeholders with the opportunity to include information derived from this roundtable in their comments.

“If EPA declines to convene such a stakeholder roundtable, NPRA suggests that stakeholders themselves arrange such a meeting,” he said.

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