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Groups write EPA administrator about topic
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group of oil industry and environmental groups formed an informal coalition
to oppose a possible raising of the 10 percent limit on ethanol in gasoline.
The groups (detailed below) wrote Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson Dec. 18 calling
on EPA to take no action on raising the ethanol limit without giving
"appropriate consideration to the important environmental and consumer
safety protections with respect to EPA approval of the use of mid-level
Background: EPA regulations currently limit the amount
of ethanol allowed in gasoline to 10 percent. The formulated product
is known as E10. EPA imposed the limit because of concerns ethanol would
damage automotive drivetrain fittings and emissions control devices.
E85, or 85 percent ethanol fuel blends, are allowed for specially equipped
Margo Oge, director of EPA's Office of Transportation and
Air Quality, said Nov. 13 that EPA is considering allowing blends as
high as E15 or E20. Oge said the blends may be necessary to
allow the fuel industry to meet the congressionally mandated renewable
fuels standard. Unless the barrier is removed, ethanol production could
level off by 2010.
By 2010 to 2013, the entire U.S. gasoline supply will have
10 percent ethanol, Oge said. To increase the supply to the
mandated levels, EPA may have to raise the "blend wall" to
15 percent or 20 percent, she said.
"Obviously, before we do that, we have to make it clear that allowing
these fuels will not have unintended consequences, of impacting the
environment, [and] of impacting the vehicles, both onroad and offroad
vehicles," Oge said.
EPA is drafting a proposed regulation on which biofuels
will qualify as renewable fuels meeting the standard.
The industry and environmental group letter called on EPA to collect
public comment on the impact of a higher blend wall before it takes
any action to propose raising the 10 percent limit. "There has
not been sufficient testing of motor vehicles and nonroad equipment
engines to justify a determination that any mid-level ethanol blend
would meet the requirements" of the Clean Air Act for raising the
limit, the letter said. "Collectively, our organizations strongly
believe that this issue should not be part of the rulemaking proposal
for the revised Renewable Fuel Standard under the [2007 Energy Independence
and Security Act]. The mid-level ethanol blend issue should be discussed
at length, but the vehicle should be a separate advance notice of proposed
rulemaking," said the groups.
Test results indicate that mid-level ethanol blends may be
incompatible with current motor vehicles, the letter said,
and may cause failure of emissions control devices. Mid-level blends
also may compromise safety and increase emissions from engines over
their useful lives, the letter said.
The signers of the coalition letter include
the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the
National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, the Clean Air Task Force,
Earthjustice, the Environmental Working Group, the Sierra Club, the International
Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the Motorcycle Industry Council,
the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Natural Resources Defense
Council, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and the Specialty Vehicle
Institute of America, the American Lung Association, and the Engine Manufacturers
Purdue University agricultural economist
Wally Tyner, an energy policy specialist, said: "The ethanol industry
will not and cannot grow with the blending wall in place. That
means we won‘t have cellulosic ethanol and the demand for corn for
ethanol will be limited unless the blending wall is somehow changed or
we find a way around it.”
There are too few cars and trucks on the nation‘s roads
capable of running on any gasoline with an ethanol blend higher than
10 percent, Tyner said. A huge gap exists between the E10 fleet
and flex-fuel vehicles that run on E85 - an 85/15 ethanol to gasoline
blend, he said. "Only about 7 million of our nation‘s 300-plus
million cars are E85 flex-fuel vehicles," Tyner said. "Also,
we have just 1,700 fuel pumps in the entire country that can dispense
E85, and most of those are in the Midwest. All of the E85 that‘s
marketed nationwide could be produced by one ethanol plant."
Automobile manufacturers do not believe today‘s E10
vehicles can run on a higher ethanol blend, Tyner said. "Because
the automobile fleet in the US turns over about every 14 years, it would
take some time before E15 or E20 cars would be as common as E10 are
now," he said.
Ethanol makers dispute the contention that
blends higher than E10 present any hazards, and say studies show that
small engines can handle higher blends. But manufacturers
lobbied successfully for language to be added to the Energy Independence
and Security Act specifying that higher blends have to be approved by
the EPA after a vigorous testing process.
This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or
retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.