US refiners join Congress in seeking ethanol fuel science

30 July 2010 23:36  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US refiners on Friday joined a bipartisan effort by leading members of Congress in challenging even a limited increase in the federal mandate for ethanol blends in gasoline, warning that such a move could cause wide damage.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) cautioned that a federal mandate to increase the current 10% ethanol blend in US gasolines - known as E-10 - without adequate study would amount to “a giant science experiment” that could jeopardize every American household.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to decide by October this year whether to grant a petition by US biofuel producers to boost the mandated ethanol mix to 15%, known as E-15.

NPRA president Charlie Drevna voiced support for a wide-ranging request made to the EPA on Thursday by top Democrat and Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who are seeking assurances that the agency will not make any ethanol blend decision without full and comprehensive scientific research.

“While some in the ethanol industry are telling us all to pump first and ask questions later,” Drevna said, “our government has an obligation to protect consumers and first get answers to the questions the congressmen have raised.”

The US biofuels sector has argued that most automobiles in service in the US can safely use E-15 ethanol fuel blends, but refiners, automobile and various engine manufacturers dispute that.

In their letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Democrat representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts were joined by Republican congressmen Joe Barton of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan to demand that the agency answer a series of questions and to assure them that the agency’s ultimate decision will not cause environmental or economic harm.

Waxman is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Barton is the ranking Republican on the panel.  Markey chairs the panel’s Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, where Upton is the senior Republican.

The congressmen told the EPA’s Jackson that “While E-15 may work well in some types of vehicles, preliminary information raises significant questions about whether, in other types of vehicles or engines, E-15 may cause durability or operability problems, or increased air pollution”.

“We believe that EPA should not approve the use of E-15 until the agency has sufficient test results to allow you to assure consumers that use of E-15 will not harm their vehicles or engines,” the four representatives said.

They noted to Jackson that current law requires that before granting a higher ethanol fuel mix, EPA must determine that it the blend “is compatible with existing cars and trucks, and with non-road equipment (such as boats, lawn mowers, chain saws, etc.)”.

The representatives also cautioned the EPA against a partial or limited ethanol blend increase.

Advocates of the higher E-15 blend have argued that EPA could grant partial authorization, perhaps by allowing E-15 fuels for automobiles manufactured since 2006 or even 2001.

The members of Congress indicated that they do not necessarily accept EPA’s expressed view that it has authority to grant a partial approval or waiver for limited E-15 use.

However, they said, “Assuming that EPA has authority to grant a partial waiver, EPA should have a well-thought-out and well-executed plan for avoiding misfueling.”

Opponents of a E-15 blend mandate have argued that a partial or limited authorization could create nightmares for the US automotive fuel infrastructure for production, storage, delivery and retail distribution of both E-10 and E-15 blends, resulting in misfueling by consumers.

The congressmen cautioned that “a significant amount of accidental or intentional misfueling would be likely” as a consequence of a partial or limited E-15 authorization, and that “a significant number of consumers could be adversely affected”.

They asked that the EPA provide detailed scientific studies and research on the effect of E-15 on late model cars and those produced before 2000, and on the impact of the higher ethanol blend in off-road or non-vehicle gasoline engines.

Waxman also noted that the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) required that the EPA produce within 18 months a study on the air quality impact of higher biofuel blends, a deadline that has long since lapsed.

“When will EPA complete that study?” the congressional letter asked.

NPRA’s Drevna said on Friday that no increase in the ethanol blend level in gasolines should be approved “until there is clear and convincing scientific evidence that higher ethanol blends are safe” for all automobiles, trucks, off-road vehicles and utility engines.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy
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By: Joe Kamalick
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