Democrat protests exclusion of EPA, DOE from House E15 hearing

Representatives from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy should have been invited to testify at a hearing examining potential problems from EPA’s allowing gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend into the US market, the ranking minority member of a US House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee suggested.

Witnesses representing the Coordinating Research Council, American Automobile Association, and National Motorcycle Association all told the committee’s Environment subcommittee that tests EPA asked DOE to conduct did not adequately address potential hazards of widespread E15 use.

“Although I agree that EPA should not base decisions on incomplete information, neither should this committee,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said in her opening statement.

Bonamici expressed concern that the American Petroleum Institute and automakers funded research being used to refute EPA’s science leading up to its decision to grant E15 waivers. “Also, because [DOE] conducted the research on which EPA based its decision, it’s important to note that the majority invited neither [DOE] nor [EPA] to discuss the science and extensive testing on which EPA based its decision,” she said.

Democrats were given adequate opportunity to invite an additional witness, according to the subcommittee’s vice-chairman Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who ran the hearing.

Witness Mike Leister, a CRC board member and a senior fuels policy advisor at Marathon Petroleum Corp., confirmed that the research organization gets about two thirds of its funding from API and automakers, with the remainder coming from outside organizations on a project-by-project basis.

‘Not as extensive’

“We don’t fault the tests DOE ran for EPA or how they were done,” Leister told the subcommittee. “We only say they were not as extensive as the tests automakers run on a variety of fuels with a wide range of models on which CRC modeled its tests.”

CRC developed and funded a comprehensive multiyear testing program shortly after the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act became law and has spent close to $14 million studying midlevel ethanol fuel blends ever since, Leister said. DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory were involved in the program’s early stages, he added.

“When EPA asked for its help, DOE decided to do a catalyst emissions test, which is not very strenuous and certainly does not reflect normal driving conditions,” Leister said. “EPA did its analysis of the results and appeared under a lot of pressure. As we brought problems we found to its attention, it appeared less inclined to listen.”

He said as CRC continued its tests, it discovered that E15 and E20 could cause excessive engine vale and seat wear under certain driving conditions in some existing vehicles; and that there was an elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, fuel system component swelling, and impairment of fuel level measurement systems in some tested vehicles.

“CRC believes that the research demonstrates that millions of the vehicles, engines and components in the current US vehicle fleet could be damaged by E15,” Leister said.

Can void warranties

Wayne Allard, vice-president, government relations, for the American Motorcycle Association, said the organization believes more extensive independent testing needs to be completed before E15 becomes more widely available. “To the best of our knowledge, E15 is not approved for use in any original-equipment motorcycles or [all-terrain vehicles],” he told the subcommittee. “In fact, its use can void manufacturers’ warranties.”

Allard, who was a Republican US senator from Colorado from 1997 through 2008, noted that while EPA has not yet approved the use of E15 on motorcycles and ATVs, the AMA believes it will reduce fuel efficiency and possibly cause premature engine failure. “In offroad engines, the effects can even be dangerous for users,” he added.

Robert L. Darbelnet, president of AAA, said that the federation of US and Canadian motor clubs stands by its November call for EPA to suspend E15’s marketplace rollout until its impact on vehicles becomes clear and basic consumer education and protection thresholds are met.

“AAA is not opposed to ethanol,” he explained. “We are concerned with the way that this one particular blend has been brought to market and is being sold to consumers. AAA believes that ethanol blended fuels have the potential to provide drivers a welcome choice at the pump that supports American jobs, promotes American energy independence, and can save Americans money.

“In order to realize these benefits, it is imperative that increased ethanol blends are only brought to market when consumers have been clearly informed and protected,” Darbelnet said. EPA’s effort to bring E15 into the US motor fuels marketplace has not met this requirement, he told the subcommittee.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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