API mulls taking E15 legal challenge to US Supreme Court

The American Petroleum Institute is considering taking its legal challenge of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s introduction of gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend into the marketplace to the US Supreme Court, an API official said.

API and other organizations involved in the challenge would have to file a motion for consideration with the high court by April for the case to possibly be considered this year, said Bob Greco, API downstream and industry operations director. He spoke as the Coordinating Research Council released a new report suggesting widespread use of E15 could seriously damage vehicles’ fuel pumps and maintenance monitoring systems.

“E15 could cause erratic and misleading fuel gauge readings or cause faulty check engine light illuminations,” Greco told reporters during a Jan. 29 teleconference. “It also could cause critical components to break and stop fuel flow to the engine. Failure of these components could result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways.”

A second teleconference participant, Mike Leister, principal engineer in Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s light products supply, distribution, and planning department, added, “We tested fuel pumps and fuel level sensing components, devices that send signals of problems to a car’s onboard diagnostic system or dashboard. About half didn’t make it through the tests.”

Greco said EPA began introducing E15 into the marketplace before CRC, a research organization supported by API and seven US and non-US automakers, could complete its tests. The latest report follows one that CRC issued in May demonstrating E15 could damage valve and valve seat engine parts in some tested vehicles, which included a number of common brands.

More comprehensive

CRC’s tests are more comprehensive than US Department of Energy tests EPA cited to justify its E15 actions, Greco said. “The more we study, the more problems we uncover,” he observed.

E15’s potential problems are among many indications that the 113th Congress should repeal the federal Renewable Fuel Standard mandated under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, according to Greco.

“The world has changed since it was enacted,” he explained. “Consumer demand for fuels has dropped, while domestic supplies of crude oil have grown dramatically because of the revolution in shale oil and natural gas development in the US. This has reduced imports, one of the stated purposes of the RFS.”

Seeking repeal of the RFS is not an indictment of renewable fuels, he added. “Ethanol is well established and has desirable blending properties, so there are reasons why America’s refiners would use it with or without the law,” Greco said.

More members of Congress might be amenable since governors and other lawmakers raised concerns about expanding fuel use of ethanol from corn during 2012’s heavy drought, he suggested. “We at API are focusing on how it affects our industry and the problems it causes, including fraudulent [bio-diesel research identification numbers] and the ethanol blend wall we’re confronting,” Greco said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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