Refiners, others urge EPA not to rush E-15 authorization

A coalition of eight environmental and public health organizations raised objections similar to refiners’ in opposing a petition for federal approval to raise allowable US gasoline levels to 15%.

It was hardly surprising that oil refiners opposed Growth Energy’s request for US Environmental Protection Agency approval to increase gasoline ethanol levels to 15% as the public comment period ended on July 20. But a coalition of eight environmental and public health organizations raised similar objections in their comments.

The fuel ethanol advocacy organization argues that allowing a higher ethanol level than 10% will increase jobs. Opponents including the American Lung Association, the Center for Auto Safety, the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council contend that it could simply create problems.

Their primary concern is similar to that of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. “Ethanol should not be blended into gasoline at levels higher than 10% for use in non-flexible fuel motor vehicles and non-road gasoline powered engines until comprehensive and independent testing shows that mid-level ethanol blends are safe for consumers and do not harm the environment or public health,” NPRA said in its comments.

It attached to its comments a letter to senior Obama administration officials from more than 50 national, state, and local business, environmental, public health and agricultural associations which also said that more tests are needed.

Incomplete science

“The science regarding the impact of mid-level ethanol blends on consumer safety, engine performance, and potential environmental harm has not been completed, and likely will not be completed for at least two years,” NPRA told EPA. It called the information Growth Energy submitted to EPA in support of the petition “a woefully inadequate foundation upon which to base such an important change in the nation’s supply of gasoline.”

The eight-group coalition noted that the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act included a new requirement for the EPA administrator to make an applicant demonstrate that a new fuel will not cause emissions device or systems failures in off-road engines. It said that Growth Energy has not done this.

NPRA also said that potential approval of Growth Energy’s petition is not an effective short- or medium-term solution to avoiding the “blendwall” problem caused by the increasing conventional biofuels volumes mandated under EISA.

Below mandate

It explained that while ethanol is currently blended into about 75% of all the gasoline sold in the US, mandated volumes of conventional and cellulosic biofuels are so high that making all gasoline 10% ethanol will fall short of EISA’s compliance goal.

“However, EPA should not rush approval of E15 in order to postpone the blendwall,” it continued. “The agency should make a scientifically sound decision based on an analysis of the safety of mid-level ethanol blends for use in all US gasoline-powered motor vehicles and engines. Safety is paramount.”

The eight environmental and public health organizations agreed. “We believe that the combination of hurdles, not all of which have been identified, virtually assures that E-15 could not be marketed in substantial volumes for multiple years,” they told EPA.

Contact Nick Snow

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