US approves 15% ethanol blend over oil industry objections

13 October 2010 19:54  [Source: ICIS news]

E15 may be allowed at pumpsWASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday approved the sale of 15% ethanol fuel blends (E-15), an action that US energy officials immediately criticised as a bad policy meant to curry favour with voters.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency was approving an increase of ethanol blending in US retail gasolines from the current 10% authorisation (E-10) to the 15% blend level as the “first of a number of actions needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialisation of E-15 gasoline blends”.

She said that her decision for the 50% increase in the volume of ethanol in US gasolines was based on environmental grounds and the need to reduce dependence on foreign oil imports.

EPA said in a policy statement that the decision was made after reviewing “extensive testing and other available data on E-15’s impact on engine durability and emissions”.

However, EPA said that the approval for retail sale of E-15 fuel blends was only for automobiles and light trucks manufactured in 2007 and since.

The agency’s ruling does not authorise E-15 for automobiles manufactured prior to 2007 or for use in “any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles or non-road engines”.

Jackson said that available test data does not support the safety or efficacy of E-15 in off-road vehicles such as farm or construction equipment or in gasoline-powered engines such as power saws and landscaping maintenance machinery.

Jackson said that a decision on whether to allow E-15 use by automobiles and light trucks manufactured in 2001-2006 will be made after EPA gets the results of further engine testing by the Department of Energy (DOE), which is due by the end of November.

She said EPA also would be taking steps to establish E-15 labelling requirements for retail gasoline pumps “to help consumers easily identify the correct fuel for their vehicles and equipment”.

But the American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Wednesday that it was disappointed in what it said was the agency’s premature ruling on E-15.

Bob Greco, the institute’s director of downstream operations, charged that EPA was “rushing though this new fuel standard without complete research”.

“This may be good politics, but it is bad public policy,” Greco said.

The US holds national elections in less than three weeks on 2 November.

“The large majority of today’s vehicle warranties only cover gasoline with up to 10% ethanol,” Greco said. “More ethanol in gasoline could result in the voiding of customer warranties.”

“The EPA also seems to believe that a label on the pump will keep consumers safe from misfueling,” he said, “but the impacts of misfueling are unknown until the necessary research is completed.”

In approving the limited use of E-15, EPA was responding to a petition from ethanol trading group Growth Energy and 54 US ethanol producers.

The US bio-ethanol industry is wholly corn-based, and the increase to E-15 was politically popular in US midwestern corn-growing states where much of the nation’s ethanol production capacity is located.

Ethanol industry advocates had earlier warned that an E-15 blend approval was critical to the survival of the US biofuels industry.

API, petrochemical producers and a wide coalition of other manufacturing, food processing, agricultural and environmental groups have opposed the E-15 petition on grounds that the higher ethanol fuel blend would harm many engines and distribution systems and would not improve the environment.

US refiners have warned that an E-15 authorisation could force shutdowns of some domestic gasoline refineries.

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