US petchems, others urge Congress to hear E-15 ethanol issue

25 August 2010 22:33  [Source: ICIS news]

Petchems seek E15 reviewWASHINGTON (ICIS)--US petrochemical producers and refiners on Wednesday joined a broad coalition of manufacturers, food industries, motor makers and environmental groups in urging Congress to force further scientific analysis of mid-level ethanol fuel blends.

The 39 industry, environmental, recreational and consumer food groups urged key Senate and House committees to hold hearings on whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE) had adequately researched the potential safety and environmental impacts of mid-level ethanol fuel blends, specifically the 15% ethanol-gasoline mix known as E-15.

In letters to the Senate Environment Committee and the House Energy and Commerce panel, the groups noted that “EPA has indicated that it should make a decision on granting a waiver for E-15 by the end of September”.

The agency is considering a petition from leading US bioethanol producers to raise the existing US mandate for a 10% ethanol blend (E-10) in the nation’s gasoline supplies to the 15% level. 

The biofuel groups argue that the US automobile fleet and other gasoline combustion engines - hand-held power equipment, marine engines, off-road recreational and construction vehicles - can run safely on the higher blend. 

They also argue that a mandate increase is needed to sustain the alternative fuels industry and to encourage development of non-food cellulosic ethanol.

EPA indicated in June this year that it would make a decision on the E-15 petition before 1 October.

But in Wednesday’s letter to the Senate and House committees, industry and environmental groups argued that the agency had not adequately researched all aspects of the environmental and use consequences of E-15 fuel blends and could not reach a science-based decision in the four weeks remaining before 1 October.

“For example, EPA has not released information about the mid-level blend’s impact on different types of road and non-road engines,” the letters said, “nor has it released information about how it will prevent harm to consumers from ‘misfueling’ their engines with the incorrect blend.”

“We also believe that the Department of Energy should fully expand and accelerate mid-level ethanol blends research in areas that are necessary to protect consumers,” the letters added.

The groups urged the two committees to convene hearings next month and to call on EPA and DOE to testify about the state of E-15 research before EPA makes any decision on the petition.

Among the 39 industry groups are the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Marina Industries, the Engine Manufacturers Association, the National Chicken Council and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

In addition to questions about engine compatibility, safety and environmental value, the NPRA opposes the higher ethanol blend mandate on grounds it would force some US refinery shutdowns.

NPRA president Charlie Drevna said that immediate congressional hearings are needed because "We want to be sure that if EPA comes up with some sort of certification allowing E-15 blends that their scientific data supports it, and right now we're not convinced that is the case".

"Congress deserves to hear what they [EPA] have in terms of scientific justification and what they don't have," Drevna said.

He also charged that EPA has focused its petition consideration on only a small section of law governing fuel certifications and that the agency is ignoring its broader obligations under environmental law.

"Last time I looked, it is the Environmental Protection Agency, not the ethanol protection agency," Drevna said.

Environmental groups that signed the appeal to Congress included the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Livestock groups, foods producers and retails have charged that because US ethanol production is almost wholly corn-based, the higher ethanol fuel blend would force feed and food prices higher. Environmentalists oppose the higher blend because they contend that corn ethanol offers little or no environmental benefits.

In July, leading Democrat and Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked EPA to provide assurances that an E-15 mandate would not cause environmental or economic harm.

In addition, a key tax-writing House committee has indicated that it would cut federal subsidies for bioethanol production.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a major biofuels trade group, did not have an immediate response to the multi-industry and environmental appeals to Congress for hearings on the E-15 decision.

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