US chems, enviros join in opposing ethanol fuel boost

27 March 2009 17:36  [Source: ICIS news]

This car runs on ethanolWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--An increasingly broad coalition of chemical, environmental, automotive and engine manufacturers and food producers on Friday again voiced opposition to a higher US ethanol fuel blend, charging that corn-ethanol producers want to circumvent environmental laws.

A group of 55 diverse trade and commercial interest groups - up from the original eight members in December last year - declared their “strong opposition” to plans by some in Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama to raise the so-called blend cap for ethanol above its current 10% level.

Advocates for the struggling US corn ethanol industry argue that the current blend of 10% ethanol with 90% standard gasoline, known as E-10, does not provide enough market consumption to absorb the country’s existing ethanol production. 

Ethanol trade groups, chiefly the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Growth Energy, have petitioned the Obama administration to raise the blend cap immediately to E-12, E-13 or more.

The coalition opposing such an increase, which includes the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) among others, argues that the blend cap cannot legally be raised without testing required by the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Sandra Schubert, EWG’s director of government affairs, charged on Friday that allies of the US corn ethanol industry in the administration and Congress “are trying to circumvent the Clean Air Act’s requirements in order to help out the ethanol industry”.

She said the CAA requires that changes to the blend cap must first be shown to not cause harm to public health and not compromise gasoline engine safety or performance.

“They want to increase the ethanol blend without meeting these criteria,” Schubert said.

In a letter to the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other administration officials, the coalition said that no blend cap increase should be made “until independent and comprehensive testing has been completed that indicates that such mid-level ethanol blends (whether E-12, E-15 or E-20) will not pose a risk to all gasoline-powered engines, to public health, to the environment and to consumers”.

Tom Buis, chief executive of the ethanol producers group Growth Energy, said that numerous studies by the Energy Department and university scientists “overwhelmingly show that increasing the blend to E-15 will have no adverse impact on a car’s performance, maintenance or emissions”.

In addition, he said, “those opposed to the waiver [of the 10% limit] have not demonstrated any evidence that higher blends would be harmful”.

EWG’s Schubert countered with “Why not do the testing that the Clean Air Act requires? What are these guys afraid of?”

The EWG and a half-dozen other environmental groups oppose the higher blend cap because they contend that despite heavy federal subsidies, bio-ethanol has not demonstrated the environmental, fuel and costs savings that had been expected.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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