Oil Refiners, Environmental Groups Oppose Raising Ethanol Limit in Gasoline

December 25, 2008 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Groups write EPA administrator about topic

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

A 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 ethanol blends."

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 vehicles.

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 Association.

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.

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


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