Enviros, health groups join refiners against ethanol boost

01 April 2009 18:45  [Source: ICIS news]

Congress debates boosting ethanol in US fuelsWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--Environmental and health groups on Wednesday joined refiners and engine makers in opposing a higher US ethanol fuel blend, warning Congress of dire health and transportation consequences.

Speaking before the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said that open and scientific testing should be done before the ethanol mix in US gasoline engines can be raised above the current 10% limit.

Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the council, said that “the amount of ethanol we allow to be blended into a gallon of gasoline must be based on compete testing to ensure the public’s health is protected”.

Greene said further research is needed to ensure that ethanol fuel blends above 10% - known as E-10 - do not cause more environmental harm than good, especially in terms of land used to grow biofuels feedstock.

“There is no doubt that using some sources of biomass to make fuels leads to substantial GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions as a result of changing our uses of land around the world,” Greene said.

He said that for Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to simply authorise higher ethanol blends while overlooking the potential land use impact “is clearly not supported by the science”.

The EPA is considering a petition from Growth Energy, a trade group representing US ethanol producers, to raise the blend cap to 12% or 13%. Growth Energy argues that there has been sufficient scientific research showing no harm to automobile engines from higher ethanol blends and that EPA should waive legal requirements for further testing.

Ethanol supporters warn that the US biofuels industry could be at risk without a mandated higher blend.

However, the American Lung Association (ALA) challenged the research data advanced by Growth Energy, saying that few of the underlying studies have been peer-reviewed.

“EPA cannot base such an important decision on such flimsy or non-existent data” and that higher ethanol blends could pose a health risk by raising ozone levels in the atmosphere, the association said.

Charles Drevna, speaking for the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), urged Congress to block any higher ethanol blends “until comprehensive and independent testing shows that higher ethanol blends - so-called mid-level ethanol blends - are safe for consumers and do not harm the environment or public health”.

Drevna, who also spoke on behalf of manufacturers of marine engines and other off-road gasoline engines that might be adversely affected by higher ethanol blends, noted that more than 50 other industrial, environmental and health sector groups have voiced opposition to an arbitrary boost to ethanol blends.

Refiners and manufacturers of automotive and off-road gasoline engines fear they would be liable for damages if higher ethanol blends undermine engine performance or cause engine failures.

There are more than 240m automobiles in use in the US, but less than 5% of them are flex-fuel vehicles known to be capable of using ethanol blends above 10%.  Another 400m gasoline-powered engines are in use in the US in recreational boating, agricultural and forestry equipment and other off-road vehicles or equipment, and the impact of higher ethanol blends on those engines is not certain.

As did Greene, Drevna cited President Barack Obama’s 9 March memorandum on scientific integrity in which the president said that “Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decision s of my administration”.

An EPA decision on the Growth Energy petition by law must be made before the end of this year but could come at any time.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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