EPA Announces 30-Day Comment Period on U.S. Ethanol Blend Rate

April 16, 2009 07:00 PM
 

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Dec. 1 EPA deadline on Growth Energy petition filed March 6


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced it is seeking public comment over a 30-day period (following publication in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen on April 22) on whether to allow a higher level of ethanol to be blended into gasoline.

Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers petitioned the EPA on March 6 to raise the maximum blend level for ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent to up to 15 percent. The current limit of 10 percent for non flex-fuel vehicles has been in place since 1978, but ethanol manufacturers say that level must be increased to accommodate rising federal ethanol production mandates.

By law, EPA must act on the petition within 270 days of receiving it. This deadline for EPA action is Dec. 1, 2009.

With a 10 percent blend rate, the Energy Department estimates that as early as 2013 the amount of ethanol required to be produced will exceed the amount the U.S. vehicle fleet could consume. If the slowing economy continues to cut into gasoline demand, the so-called 10 percent blend wall could be reached a year earlier.

The EPA is currently working with the Energy Department to test how higher levels of ethanol would affect vehicle engines. Early this month, an EPA official said the agency's tests of higher ethanol levels would be finished "over the course of the next year."

Former USDA official comments. "My understanding is there are lots of folks at EPA who believe we need a lot of additional information before we raise" the blend rate, said Chuck Conner, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (and a former USDA Deputy Secretary under the George W. Bush administration) at an Informa Economics conference. He said a decision "is not imminent."

GM comments. Alan Adler, a spokesman for General Motors Corp., said if the EPA allows higher ethanol blends "we want to be sure that we're not on the hook for vehicles" that end up having problems with higher blends.

Earlier this year Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. recalled 214,500 Lexus vehicles sold in the U.S. that were vulnerable to corrosion problems in their fuel-delivery pipes when some ethanol fuels were used.
The small-engine industry, which complained of damage when E10 became widespread, is wary.

Honda spokesman Edward Cohen said: "All of our products are designed to accommodate E10 fuel. E15 is a very different fuel and we simply do not know its impact on power products. Testing is ongoing." Besides cars, Honda makes lawn mowers, generators and boat engines.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said, "We feel we have solid documentation to move there (to E15) without harm to the emissions system." He added: "We're the only alternative to imported gasoline. And when you think about it, the 10 percent cap is really a mandate to use 90 percent gasoline."

EPA may waive the 10 percent limit if it decides that increasing the ethanol content of gasoline will not cause or contribute to the failure of emissions control equipment. According to EPA, the agency “may grant a waiver for a prohibited fuel or fuel additive if the applicant can demonstrate that the new fuel or fuel additive will not cause or contribute to engines, vehicles, or equipment failing to meet their emissions standards over their useful life.”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) praised EPA for moving forward with the petition. “Studies have been done that indicate E15 is safe for use in conventional vehicles, and I believe its use should be approved unless there are reasons found not to do so,” Harkin said. “Increasing ethanol blend levels can help decrease our dependence on foreign oil and create new ‘green’ jobs here in Iowa and across the country.”

The EPA notice is available at this link.

EPA requested comment and data that will enable it to:

(a) evaluate whether an appropriate level of scientific and technical information exists in order for the Administrator to determine whether the use of E15 will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system over the useful life of any motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine (certified pursuant to section 206 of the Act) to achieve compliance with applicable emission standards;

(b) evaluate whether an appropriate level of scientific and technical information exists in order for the Administrator to determine whether the use of E15 will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system over the useful life of any nonroad vehicle or nonroad engine (certified pursuant to section 206 and 213(a) of the Act) to achieve compliance with applicable emission standards; and,

(c) evaluate whether an appropriate level of scientific and technical information exists in order for the Administrator to grant a waiver for an ethanol-gasoline blend greater than 10 percent and less than or equal to 15 percent by volume.

EPA also requested comment on:

(d) all legal and technical aspects regarding the possibility that a waiver might be granted, in a conditional or partial manner, such that the use of up to E15 would be restricted to a subset of gasoline vehicles or engines that would be covered by the waiver, while other vehicles or engines would continue using fuels with blends no greater than E10. EPA seeks comment on what measures would be needed to ensure that the fuel covered by the waiver (i.e. a partial or conditional waiver) is only used in that subset of vehicles or engines. EPA acknowledges that the issue of misfueling would be challenging in a situation where a conditional waiver is granted. To the extent a partial or conditional waiver may be appropriate, please provide comments on the legal and technical need for restrictions of this nature. Comments are also requested on how the Agency might define a partial or conditional waiver. For example, assuming there is sufficient technical basis, should the subset of vehicles or engines that is allowed to use the waived fuel be defined by model year of production, engine size, application (e.g., highway vehicle vs. nonroad engine), or some other defining characteristic.

(e) Any education efforts that would be needed to inform the public about the new fuel that would be available if a waiver is granted. To address the possibility of a grant of a conditional or partial waiver, the Agency requests specific comments on public education measures that would be needed if the waiver allowed the fuel to be used only in a subset of existing vehicles or engines.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


 

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