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A higher blend level of 12-14 percent reportedly
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a notice of proposed rule making
in the review process that would increase the percentage of ethanol that
can be blended into motor fuel from the current 10 percent level to a
proposed new level of 12 to 14 percent, contacts advise.
EPA officials or spokesmen would not comment on the specific
percentages involved as the rulemaking process is still underway,
but they confirmed that the agency is in the review process relative
to its proposed rule to implement new provisions in the Energy Independence
and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). The proposed rule covers Renewable
Fuels Standard changes which are being referred to as RFS2.
But other sources inform that one component of the RFS2 proposal
is that it would increase the maximum allowable blend percentage on
ethanol (other than high-level blends such as E85 that are restricted
to flex-fuel vehicles) from the current 10 percent to a level of 12
percent to 14 percent.
EPA officials acknowledge that
meeting the requirement of 11.1 billion gallons of renewable fuels in
2009 (10.5 billion gallons of cornstarch-based ethanol, 0.5 billion gallons
of biomass-based diesel such as biodiesel and 0.1 billion gallons of undifferentiated
advanced biofuel, per the EISA) will be a tall order for the industry
under the current rules, adding that increasing the blend percentage would
certainly help in meeting the requirement.
There is some confusion on exactly where
the RFS2 rule is in the process, as some say it is at
the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) while others say it is also
under review and comment by agencies such as USDA and the Dept. of Energy.
Timing on when the RFS2 rule will be published is also unclear,
as some contacts indicated they had expected it to have been released
last week. But if the matter is either under interagency or OMB review,
such a release timeline obviously was not on the mark.
"We intend to have this regulation out before the end of
the Bush administration," an EPA official said.
This issue has been on the radar screen
at EPA for some time. Ethanol proponents noted that EPA
has been doing research on the safety of levels for a blend beyond 10
percent for over a year. They further believe that any environmental group
court challenge would not prevail.
EPA Administration Stephen Johnson told Farm
Journal media staff in May that his agency was exploring the blend
percentage, noting his agency has to examine the matter carefully. "A
very legitimate question is whether there is a possibility of a higher
blend -- say 15 percent or 20 percent, or is there a different blend.
This is not only for automobiles but we have a lot of other engines
-- from a lawnmower to a weed whacker -- that also have to be taken
into account. A number of people, including ourselves are evaluating
that. Engine manufacturers, whether they be a car or lawnmower or other
kind of off-road vehicle are also doing this analysis. We don't know
whether the current engine design will allow a higher percent blend.
So that is another important issue. Our role at EPA is to ensure that
environment and public health are protected and the air quality standards
are being met," Johnson said. "Of course the engine manufacturers
and carmakers are looking at can you use this fuel in the vehicle and
still have a valid warranty. Or does it cause other problems."
the issue of raising the blend percentage is at play and it appears headed
for some type of an increase, but I am told it would not go beyond 14
percent. Contacts say an increase, while helping to meet the ethanol blend
requirement of 10.5 billion gallons, would also aid the industry in dealing
with the so-called blend wall.
Importantly, a key will be getting auto manufacturers to go along
with an increased blend percentage in terms of it not affecting the
warranty on cars/engines.
Timing on this also remains murky, although it appears
to be moving slower than some have been signaling, especially if it
is still in the review process involving OMB and other government agencies.
The RFS2 plan could be on an expedited 30-day comment period,
or otherwise 60 days, with the rule likely to take effect within 90
days of publication in the Federal Register.
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