US refiners, energy sector blast EPA approval for E-15 fuel

21 January 2011 20:42  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US refiners and energy production officials on Friday charged that the Obama administration is protecting the domestic bio-ethanol industry with favourable rulings at the expense of public safety and consumer interests.

In reacting to the government’s decision earlier on Friday authorising 15% ethanol fuel blends (E-15) in older model passenger cars and light trucks, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) said that the administration “has rushed to judgement to put protection of the ethanol industry ahead of protection of the American people”.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) used similar language, charging that the administration had rushed to judgement with a decision “that may put consumers at risk”.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier on Friday announced its approval for use of E-15 in passenger cars and light trucks manufactured in 2001-2006.  In October last year the agency had approved E-15 use in cars and light trucks manufactured in 2007 or later.

“EPA has acted without adequate scientific evidence to endanger the gasoline-powered engines used by millions of Americans in their vehicles and outdoor power equipment,” said NPRA president Charles Drevna.

Drevna warned that widespread use of E-15 fuel blends “could cause engine failures that could leave consumers stranded, injured or worse, and hit consumers with costly engine repairs”.

Bob Greco, the API’s director of downstream operations, cautioned that “use of E-15 in some small gasoline-powered equipment has the potential to create serious safety concerns”.

The EPA’s approval of E-15 fuel blends was in response to a petition filed by US corn-ethanol producers who said that their industry needed the E-15 authorisation to ensure enough ethanol demand to sustain their operations and economic viability.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) welcomed the agency's action, noting that approval for E-15 in autos made since 2001 would cover 62% of vehicles on US highways and boost ethanol consumption to some 17.5bn gallons annually.

But RFA president Bob Dinneen said that the EPA should go further and approve E-15 for all autos and light trucks of any manufacturing year.

Dinneen also noted that several hurdles remain before E-15 can see general commercial use, including labelling and misfuelling concerns raised by gasoline retailers.

"As with any new fuel, additional testing and some regulatory issues relating to the fuel's properties must be addressed before widespread E-15 use can occur," Dinneen said.

The EPA was developing a labelling standard that is to be used at retail gasoline service stations in hopes that consumers will not put E-15 fuel into vehicles or equipment not certified for the higher ethanol blend.

But the NPRA and others have warned that mis-fuelling would inevitably happen and could result in engine or equipment damage and accidents.

US environmental groups also have opposed the E-15 authorisation and federal ethanol subsidies, arguing that ethanol does not aid the environment.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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