Ethanol groups seek to raise blend levels

Ethanol supporters petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency to raise the limit on the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline to 15% from 10%.

Mar 9th, 2009

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Mar. 9 -- Ethanol supporters petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency to raise the limit on the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline to 15% from 10%.

Wesley Clark, co-chairman of a group called Growth Energy, announced the petition Mar. 6 at a news conference in Washington, DC. Clark is a former Army general and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.

Other groups joining Growth Energy in filing an official waiver request with the EPA to allow a higher ethanol blend included the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), the American Coalition for Ethanol, and the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

EPA said it will review the request. Previously, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told an agriculture meeting that it would take her agency several months to make any decision on whether to allow a higher ethanol level.

Clark said that increasing the blend up to E15 would create 136,101 jobs and inject $24.4 billion/year into the American economy. EPA's approval of the waiver request would not impact small engines because gas stations could still sell lower blends of ethanol.

"Thirty years ago, the EPA allowed the 10% blend based on much less scientific evidence than we have today, and we now have years of driving experience showing that our cars' performance is not affected," Clark said. "Raising the cap up to E15 is supported by sound science. If the EPA acts swiftly, a higher blend of ethanol will help us jump-start the economy while further reducing our dependence on foreign oil."

Industry reacts
The American Petroleum Institute said it supports a realistic, workable Renewable Fuels Standard. API is researching whether there is an adequate technical basis for use of ethanol blends above 10%.

API partnered with the auto industry and the government to determine the ethanol level that can be used safely in vehicles and distributed in the retail gasoline station infrastructure.

"API is confident that EPA will analyze this waiver request with the appropriate level of technical scrutiny that they use for all similar applications. API believes that it would be premature to approve any waiver request until this research is completed," the organization said.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association was among an informal coalition of groups calling for the EPA to conduct a thorough, science-based review of the ethanol supporters' request to increase the blend level.

"To date, there has not been sufficient testing of motor vehicle and nonroad equipment engines, such as outdoor power equipment and marine engines, to determine whether any mid-level ethanol blend would meet current federal air quality protection requirements or be safe for consumers to use," the coalition said.

Consisting of health, environmental, food production, and manufacturing groups, that coalition said that consideration of a higher ethanol blend level must be undertaken in an open, public, and transparent process that takes into account any increased air pollution and any risks to consumers of driving vehicles or handling engines using these higher blends.

RFA comments
Bob Dinneen, RFA president and chief executive officer, said a higher ethanol blend is "is important to the long-term viability of America's ethanol industry and the success of the Renewable Fuels Standard."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has said it believes more testing is necessary. Some manufacturers say higher ethanol blends could damage the pollution-control devices within vehicle engines.

The EPA already is considering how to measure greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels.

Dinneen said he believes comprehensive testing will demonstrate that a higher ethanol blend in gasoline can be used with little if any impact on existing vehicle technologies.

"Our industry looks forward to working closely with EPA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, and the rest of the Obama administration to ensure the full potential of a robust domestic ethanol industry is realized," Dinneen said.

While advocating a 15% blend, he suggested an immediate move to a 12% blend would be "both prudent and scientifically supportable."

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