Sensenbrenner Introduces Bill to Put up Roadblock to Use of E15 Blends

February 7, 2012 09:05 AM

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the No. 2 ranking Republican on the House, Science, Space and Technology Committee, is pushing legislation (HR 3199) that would challenge the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) decision to allow a higher, E15 ethanol blend in gasoline. The House Science, Space and Technology Committee today approved 19-7 the bill to require EPA to contract with the National Academies, four nonprofit research and policy institutions, for extensive testing of gasoline blends with 15% to 20% ethanol and their effect on tailpipe emissions, fuel efficiency and durability of engine and fuel systems.

While EPA still has not yet announced registration details of the use of E15 blends, it previously used Energy Department tests to reach its decision to allow, but not mandate, the blends in 2001 and later vehicles and light trucks. Ethanol companies still must meet other federal, state and local requirements before E15 can be registered and sold as a transportation fuel.

Automakers and other E15 blend opponents have stated the EPA did not thoroughly review the impact of the higher-ethanol blend on engine performance and durability when it approved use of E15-selected vehicles and light trucks.

Makers of boat engines and gasoline-powered equipment also said they worry that motors could fail if people use E15, despite EPA-approved warning labels against such use.

Sensenbrenner previously released comments from 12 foreign and domestic automakers detailing concerns about possible engine failure and reduced mileage that could lead to lawsuits.

Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association, both ethanol lobby groups, say the EPA followed the steps outlined in the Clean Air Act (PL 101-549) for determining whether the E15 fuel blend was acceptable.

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen says the bill"would inject parochial politics into the scientifically established process of approving new fuels. In approving E15, the Department of Energy tested vehicles over millions of driving miles — the equivalent of some 4,700 round trips from Washington to Milwaukee. To suggest more testing is needed is nothing more than a stall tactic that has but one outcome — our continued addiction to oil ... Understandably, concerns will be raised any time a new fuel is introduced. The concerns raised, however, are largely superficial and do not require the intervention of Congress to resolve. America's ethanol industry has been working with auto companies and fuel suppliers for over a year to address any concerns and misconceptions that persist."

Comments: Sensenbrenner's legislation is not expected to be signed into law, but the use of E15 blends nonetheless faces several hurdles, including (1) the lack of installation of expensive tanks and blender pumps for using the E15 ethanol blend and (2) consumer caution in using E15 because current car warranties are limited to E10 blends and for E85 blends in E85 vehicles. Many retail gasoline stations have indicated they would not install the separate tanks and blender pumps without grants or subsidies for the equipment. Gasoline station contacts note that it has taken up to a decade to advance similar changes in the past.

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