US refiners join energy groups in suit over EPA ethanol rule

03 January 2011 23:03  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US refining and petrochemical officials on Monday joined a growing list of trade groups seeking to overturn a new federal authorisation for increased ethanol blending in the nation’s automotive fuels, charging that the government action was illegal.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) said it was joining with a fuels distribution group and a regional energy and refining group in filing suit against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its decision to boost the ethanol content of US gasolines from 10%, known as E-10, to 15% or E-15.

In its 13 October decision, the EPA authorised retail sales of 15% ethanol fuel blends but only for automobiles and light trucks manufactured in 2007 and later.

The agency’s ruling did not approve E-15 for automobiles manufactured before 2007 or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles and off-road engines, such as those that power chainsaws, landscaping and maintenance equipment.

The EPA said that it anticipates broadening the E-15 authorisation in early 2011 for vehicles manufactured in the 2001-2006 period.

The agency’s action was challenged in court on 9 November by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and nine other trade associations representing food, livestock and agriculture interests.

API, which represents US oil and natural gas exploration and development companies, said then that EPA lacked statutory authority to raise the ethanol blend limit and that the agency acted without adequate and required testing of E-15 blends in a wide variety of automobile and other gasoline engines.

In the suit filed on Monday by NPRA and its co-plaintiffs, the refiners group argued that the agency’s E-15 decision violated both the Clean Air Act (CAA) and federal law governing how agencies must propose regulations.

NPRA president Charles Drevna said that EPA violated the Clean Air Act with its E-15 decision because that statute does not authorise the agency to issue partial decisions on fuel blends - that is, allowing E-15 use by some vehicles but not by others.

In addition, he said, EPA based its E-15 ruling on 13 October on new data submitted to the agency only the day before, 12 October.

In basing its E-15 decision at least in part on data it received only 24 hours earlier, Drevna said that EPA violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), by “providing no time for the stakeholder review or meaningful public comment required under the APA”.

He said that NPRA and its co-plaintiffs “believe the agency has acted unlawfully in its rush to allow a 50% increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline without adequate testing and without following proper procedures”.

Joined by the International Liquid Terminals Association and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), NPRA filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court is likely to set a date for a preliminary hearing within a few months.

The NPRA-led suit also followed a separate court challenge in December last year by a group of engine manufacturers that contend the higher ethanol blend could damage engines and trigger failure of engine emissions filters and controls.

Along with the 10 plaintiffs who filed suit against the EPA’s E-15 ruling in November and those in December, there are now 17 trade groups seeking to overturn the agency’s decision.

The E-15 authorisation also is opposed by environmentalists who argue that corn-ethanol blends do nothing to improve the environment.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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