US energy, refiners welcome EPA delay on E-15 fuel

01 December 2009 21:56  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US energy and refining leaders on Tuesday welcomed word by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put off a decision on increased ethanol blending in gasolines, saying a hasty decision would have put consumers at risk.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) said the EPA’s decision to delay a ruling on whether a 15% ethanol fuel blend should be authorised “recognises that there is more study and comprehensive testing to be done” to ensure that the higher ethanol blend will be safe.

Earlier on Tuesday the EPA had informed Growth Energy that the agency is putting off until mid-2010 a substantive response to the firm’s March 2009 petition seeking an immediate authorisation for a nationwide increase from the current 10% ethanol component in gasolines, known as E-10, to a 15% mix, known as E-15 or a mid-level ethanol blend.

The API, NPRA and a broad coalition of engine manufacturers, agricultural and environmental groups had opposed the E-15 petition, warning that the higher ethanol mix in retail gasolines might cause damage in the engines of most automobiles now on the road and to agricultural equipment and other off-road gasoline engines such as power saws.

The NPRA said the EPA postponement was necessary “given the lack of comprehensive testing significant concerns for consumer safety, and the potential liability associated with distributing a product not guaranteed to successfully operate in the more than 250m legacy vehicles on the road today, as well as outdoor equipment”.

API president Jack Gerard also cited the need for scientific proof that E-15 will not damage auto engines, saying that “EPA made a sound decision” in postponing its ruling.

However, Gerard expressed concern that in its letter to Growth Energy the agency indicated it might be ready by June 2010 to approve E-15 for use by automobiles produced in 2001 and later.

“It is important that the short- and long-term impacts of increasing the amount of ethanol blended into motor fuels be evaluated on the full vehicle fleet” before E-15 is authorised, Gerard said.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a leading biofuels trade group, was critical of EPA’s delay, warning that the viability of nation’s ethanol industry is at risk.

“This delay threatens to paralyse the continued evolution of America’s ethanol industry,” said RFA president Bob Dinneen.

“This delay will chill investment in advanced biofuel technologies at a critical time in their development and commercialization,” Dinneen added, saying the EPA action amounts to “paralysis by analysis”.

Biofuels advocates have argued that a government mandate for expanded ethanol use - which an E-15 requirement would generate - is necessary to sustain the troubled US corn-based ethanol industry until advanced ethanol fuels can be perfected using non-food feedstocks such as grasses and wood chips.

Wide-scale commercialization of non-food or cellulosic ethanol production processes is thought to be several years away.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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