EPA Allows 15 Percent Ethanol Blend, Igniting Air Pollution Battle

EPA Allows 15 Percent Ethanol Blend, Igniting Air Pollution Battle

WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2010 (ENS) – A firestorm of controversy has erupted over a waiver issued by the U.S. EPA today that permits the sale of a gasoline blend containing 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

The waiver removes a regulatory limit on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol. Since 1979, up to 10 percent ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles. Gasoline sold in most parts of the country is blended with 10 percent ethanol. Higher ethanol blends up to E85 are already sold for flex-fuel cars.

Today’s decision will apply to more than 42 million vehicles, nearly 20 percent of the current fleet of passenger cars and light-duty trucks.

This fuel pump in South Dakota already offers richer ethanol blends for use in flex-fuel vehicles. (Photo by EthanolPics)

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks. Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more homegrown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps.”

The E15 petition was submitted to EPA by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers in March 2009. In April 2009, EPA sought public comment on the petition and received about 78,000 comments.

Jackson said she made the decision after a review of the Department of Energy’s “extensive testing” and other available data on E15’s impact on engine durability and emissions.

A decision on the use of E15 in model year 2001 to 2006 vehicles will be made after EPA receives the results of additional DOE testing, which is expected to be completed in November.

No waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars and light trucks, or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines, because currently there is not testing data to support such a waiver, Jackson said.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated an increase in the overall volume of renewable fuels into the marketplace reaching a 36 billion gallon total in 2022. The EPA says ethanol is considered a renewable fuel because it is produced from plant products or wastes and not from fossil fuels.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis was delighted with the EPA’s decision. “Today’s approval of E15 for newer vehicles is the first crack in the blend wall in more than 30 years, and proves what was laid out in Growth Energy’s Green Jobs Waiver – that E15 is a good fuel for American motorists. And while this is an important first step, there are many more steps we can take toward strengthening our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, creating jobs here in the United States and improving our environment.”

But the EPA move immediately ran into opposition from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, NACAA, which represents air pollution control agencies in 52 states and territories and more than 165 major metropolitan areas.

NACAA Executive Director Bill Becker said, “Today’s announcement to approve a higher blend of ethanol in newer motor vehicles is a classic case of ‘ready, fire, aim.'”

“EPA is moving forward to allow the use of E-15 even though the agency believes that emissions of nitrogen oxides, an important contributor to ground-level ozone, could increase by as much as an average of five percent across the country,” Becker said.

“With EPA poised to tighten the ozone standard, it is imperative that the agency delay this waiver until it can demonstrate conclusively that air quality will not deteriorate,” Becker warned. “Otherwise, states and localities will have a more difficult time providing clean and healthful air to its citizens.”

Some environmental groups also condemned the waiver today. Friends of the Earth called on the EPA to produce a complete accounting of the air pollution that will be caused by the new ethanol-gasoline blend, saying the EPA has failed to meet consumer and environmental protections embedded in the Clean Air Act that require more testing before a new fuel is introduced in the marketplace.

“The EPA’s decision is premature and irresponsible,” said Kate McMahon, biofuels campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth. “While today’s ruling limits E15 to use in newer engines for the time being, the agency has yet to conclude comprehensive scientific testing on the long-term engine safety and pollution impacts of increased ethanol in gasoline – period.”

“The only thing ‘green’ about ethanol is the color of the cash subsidies handed to it by Congress,” said McMahon.

More than 22,000 people emailed President Barack Obama urging him to stop the EPA from approving the waiver “until comprehensive, independent and objective scientific testing can show that higher ethanol levels will not increase air pollution, harm engines or raise consumer safety issues.”

The results of the 10-day email campaign, called “Say NO to Untested E15,” were announced October 6. The campaign was organized by environmental, consumer, food, engine manufacturing and other industry organizations that are at odds on many issues but are united in their concerns about E15. They fear that because ethanol burns hotter than pure gasoline, a richer ethanol blend will corrode soft metals and damage plastics and rubber, affecting engine performance andraising potential safety concerns.

Some fear that the demand for more corn to produce ethanol will have serious environmental effects and raise both food and feed prices. Since ethanol produces less energy than gasoline, many worry that E15 drives down the number of miles a vehicle gets per gallon, so drivers must buy fuel more often.

Controversy over the waiver has the petrochemical industry lining up with environmentalists in an unusual combination.

Gregory Scott, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said, “The Environmental Protection Agency today abdicated its responsibility to safeguard our nation’s public health and environment and became the Ethanol Promotion Agency.”

“EPA’s unwise and premature decision to allow the sale of gasoline with higher levels of ethanol may be good politics in Corn Belt states on the eve of the midterm elections, but it is bad news for every American who owns a car, truck, motorcycle, boat, snowmobile, lawnmower, chainsaw or anything else powered by gasoline,” said Scott.

“We take the confidence Americans place in our products – demonstrated by the millions of times each day that consumers purchase gasoline and diesel fuel – very seriously,” said Scott, “and we will consider every option available to reverse EPA’s ill-considered and politically motivated decision.”

The critics were dismissed by the American Coalition for Ethanol, Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association, and the Renewable Fuels Association.

“America’s ethanol industry has been an undeniable success, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and reducing our nation’s reliance on foreign oil,” the four organizations said in a joint statement. “These groups that have repeatedly attacked ethanol without validation would leave America with just one course of action: increasing our addiction to foreign oil.”

“America’s investment in renewable ethanol has paid dividends,” said the four organizations. “It returns more to the federal government in the form of tax revenue than is spent in investment, and saves the economy billions of dollars in foreign oil expense.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said his organization also supports the waiver. “This announcement is a step in the right direction,” said Johnson, “however, we remain concerned about further delays on a decision for pre-2007 model year vehicles and encourage the agency to provide producers and consumers an expeditious decision.”

The EPA said today the 15 percent waiver represents the first of a number of actions that are needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialization of E15 gasoline blends.

To help consumers identify the correct fuel for their vehicles and equipment, EPA is proposing E15 pump labeling requirements, including a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. There would be a quarterly survey of retail stations to help ensure their gas pumps are properly labeled.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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