THE Environment Protection Agency's approval of a 15% ethanol fuel blend (E15) for model year 2001 and newer vehicles continues to come under scrutiny.
According to the Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA), there are only about 12 stations across the entire country that offer E15. Ethanol groups first pushed for E15 when realizing that ethanol use would plateau without further adoption of higher fuel blends.
More than 95% of the gasoline sold in the U.S. is E10, which contains up to 10% ethanol, but ethanol use has stagnated at this level.
In his opening statement Feb. 25 before the House science subcommittee on environment, Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah), subcommittee vice chairman, said, "EPA has led a haphazard transition to E15 usage marked by regulatory confusion, bungled implementation and a lack of consumer education."
As part of the hearing, witnesses who did not represent the ethanol industry discussed a bill that would require EPA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to assess the state of the science regarding E15, including research needs, gaps in understanding, recent testing and consumer education efforts.
AAA released results of a survey last fall that found that only 12 million out of the 240 million light-duty vehicles on the road today have manufacturers' approval to use E15. Five manufacturers said their warranties would not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15, and eight additional manufacturers stated that E15 does not comply with fuel requirements in owners' manuals and may void warranty coverage.
AAA president and chief executive officer Robert L. Darbel testified that "supporters of E15 rightly note that the Department of Energy rigorously tested the fuel for exhaust emissions and components. This is consistent with the EPA's mission. It was, however, neither the rigor nor the duration of this testing that fell short; it was the scope of impact that these tests were designed to capture. After reviewing this research, along with other studies that have been conducted, AAA's automotive experts have concerns about reduced engine life and fuel pump failure from E15 use -- factors that DOE testing was not structured to measure."
RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen submitted a letter both to protest the "one-sided, Big Oil-influenced nature of the witness list" at the hearing as well as to note, for the record, the extensive testing conducted prior to approval of E15.
Dinneen said while the industry wants E15 to expand beyond 12 stations, it also seems to be attracting unwarranted attention when viewed in the context of other fuel quality issues.
"In many mountain states today, refiners are selling a sub-octane gasoline that is not covered under any car manufacturer's warranty," he noted. "It is well understood that less than 87-octane gasoline will cause engine damage and undermine emissions control systems. Where is the outrage about that?"
Dinneen said this shows that the hearing was about "market share, not safety."