EPA Grants Permission For Sales of E15 Ethanol Blends For Some Vehicles

As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency last week approved the use of E15 ethanol blends for cars and light trucks in the model year 2007 and after.

As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency last week approved the use of E15 ethanol blends for cars and light trucks in the model year 2007 and after. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol, but only for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.

During a news briefing, Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for Air and Radiation, said the waiver "represents the first of a number of actions that are needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialization of E15 gasoline blends." Since 1979, up to 10 percent ethanol or E10 has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles.

McCarthy said EPA is denying a request for a Clean Air Act waiver for E15 for 2000 model year and older vehicles and for motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles like trucks, and nonroad/offroad engines.

EPA will decide on a waiver for 2001-2006 model year cars after it receives the results of further vehicle testing from the Department of Energy, McCarthy said. The new data are expected in November or December, she added.

To avoid misfueling vehicles, EPA is proposing labeling requirements for E15 pumps and proposing that fuel suppliers specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers.

In response to reporters' questions, McCarthy said EPA had no estimate of how much additional ethanol would be consumed as a result of the waiver. She also said EPA did not take corn prices into account in making its decision. "We only look at the fuel," McCarthy said. Corn price and supply considerations would come into play should any state or group petition EPA for a waiver from the ethanol mandate.

McCarthy noted that more than 65 million U.S. cars and trucks currently on the road can use E15, or about one in seven vehicles. And she estimated that as routine motor vehicle turnover takes place, it would result in approximately 50 percent of vehicles being able to use E15 by 2015. She pointed out that the E15 waiver grants permission to use the fuel, not a mandate. EPA is not requiring the use of E15, she said, because the agency "does not have authority" to do that. 

McCarthy said that EPA had denied the E15 waiver for smaller engines because of concerns about possible harm E15 might cause to these machines. She also revealed that the agency did not test vehicles with a mid-range E12 blend, but that its tests did include blends of E-Zero, E10, E15 and E20. 

Reactions to EPA's E15 Waiver  

The National Corn Growers Association called EPA's E15 decision "a tentative first step that needs to be followed immediately with more action."

"We're disappointed in the very limited scope of this approval, but pleased EPA has finally taken action to partially approve the waiver request to allow higher blends of ethanol in some motor vehicles," said NCGA President Bart Schott,. "We believe this bifurcation of the approval process, and the labels that are expected to be placed on higher-blend fuel pumps, can lead to general consumer confusion and therefore act counter to the original intent."

By proceeding along this path, EPA's decision casts an unnecessary shadow on all ethanol blend levels, Schott added. Blends up to E15 and beyond have been tested and found suitable for a wide range of newer and older vehicles.

Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said EPA was "missing an opportunity to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and create new economic opportunity by limiting its decision on E15 to only model year 2007 and newer vehicles."

"EPA's scientifically unjustified bifurcation of the U.S. car market will do little to move the needle and expand ethanol use today," said Dinneen. "Limiting E15 use to 2007 and newer vehicles only creates confusion for retailers and consumers alike. America's ethanol producers are hitting an artificial blend wall today. The goals of Congress to reduce our addiction to oil captured in the Renewable Fuels Standard cannot be met with this decision."

National Pork Producers Council official Randy Spronk said the organization is "concerned" about the effect the decision may have on pork producers but that it is withholding comment on raising the blend rate to E15 "until we can consult with our economists." He also pointed out that "any upward pressure on corn prices [as a result of increased demand for corn from ethanol producers] will have a negative effect on [pork] producers."

"We don't want a repeat of a couple of years ago when, due mostly to high feed-grain prices, pork producers lost an average of almost $24 a hog from October 2007 through March 2010, and the industry lost nearly $6 billion," said Spronk. "Family hog farms went out of business during that time, and many producers reduced the size of their herds."

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