EPA raises allowable ethanol limit in gasoline to 15%

The US Environmental Protection Agency raised the allowable limit of ethanol in gasoline to 15% on Apr. 2 as it approved the first registration applications to supply the additive on those terms. Officials from two major oil and gas industry associations immediately called the action premature, while fuel ethanol advocates applauded EPA’s move.

EPA said its action followed an extensive technical review of the increased ethanol level’s impacts. “Registration is a prerequisite to introducing E15 into the marketplace,” it said. “Before it can be sold, manufacturers must first take additional measures to help ensure retail stations and other gasoline distributors understand and implement labeling rules and other E15-related requirements.”

EPA is not requiring the use or sale of E15, the federal environmental regulator emphasized. To enable its widespread use, it said the Obama administration has set a goal to help fueling station owners install 10,000 blender pumps over the next 5 years. In addition, both through the Recovery Act and the 2008 Farm Bill, the US Departments of Energy and Agriculture have provided grants, loans, and loan guarantees, it said.

“After extensive vehicle testing by DOE and other organizations, EPA issued two partial waivers raising the allowable ethanol volume to 15% for use in model year 2001 and newer cars and light trucks,” the agency said. E15 is not permitted in motor vehicles built prior to the 2001 model year and in offroad vehicles and equipment such as boats and lawn and garden equipment. Gasoline pumps dispensing E15 will be clearly labeled so consumers can make the right choice, it emphasized.

Charles T. Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said EPA’s announcement represents yet another in the agency's “unwise, premature, and irresponsible series of actions in its rush to force E15 to the marketplace.” Drevna added, “This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people.”

‘Rush to judgment’

Drevna said he found the decision particularly troubling since recent information released by the Coordinating Research Council shows failures when using E15 in vehicles approved by EPA. “With a lawsuit by AFPM and other organizations on this critical issue about to be heard, there is no reason for EPA to have rushed to judgment and acted so recklessly,” he maintained.

Bob Greco, downstream operations director at the American Petroleum Institute, also said recent tests revealed problems with E15, and warned that engine damage from its use may not be covered under vehicle manufacturers’ warranties.

“API supports a realistic and workable Renewable Fuel Standard and the responsible introduction of increased biofuels in a manner that protects consumers and the investments they’ve made in their vehicles,” Greco said. “However, we cannot rush to allow more ethanol before we know the consequences.”

But Tom Buis, chief executive of Growth Energy, which has actively pressed for introduction of E15, said EPA’s action came at an important time. “With ethanol selling an average of $1/gal cheaper than gasoline and $4/gal gasoline on the horizon, we'd encourage all Americans to ask their local filling station how soon they will see more-affordable E15,” he said.

Bob Dineen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said states in the Midwest have begun to address their regulatory requirements, “and perhaps as early as summer, we could see E15 at fuel stations in the Heartland of America.” Dineen added, “The future for consumers, ethanol producers, and this country has just gotten a little brighter, a little stronger.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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