US House Republicans move to block E-15 ethanol blend

15 February 2011 21:06  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--House Republicans on Tuesday moved to block federal authorisation for a 15% ethanol fuel blend (E-15), charging that the Obama administration was putting consumers and automobile engines at risk.

Representative John Sullivan (Republican-Oklahoma) has attached an amendment to the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that would deny any funds to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement its authorisation for distribution and sale of E-15 blends for use in automobiles manufactured in 2001 and later.

In decisions announced in October last year and in January this year, the agency approved the use of E-15 in cars and light trucks manufactured in 2001 and later, but the approval did not apply to older passenger vehicles, off-road and construction equipment, marine engines and gasoline-powered maintenance equipment such as chain saws.

Sullivan said that the EPA’s authorisation for limited E-15 fuel blends use was made without proper safety and compatibility testing.

“My amendment is about consumer safety, plain and simple,” Sullivan said in attaching his legislation to the all-important continuing resolution (CR) funding bill that the House was debating.

That continuing resolution was to provide spending authority for the federal government to the end of the current 2011 fiscal year, which expires on 30 September. The existing spending authorisation approved by Congress last year would expire in two weeks on 4 March.

Sullivan’s bid to cut funding for the EPA’s roll-out of E-15 use was part of a broader Republican effort in the continuing resolution to chop federal spending during the current fiscal year.

“The EPA has completely ignored calls from lawmakers, industry, environmental and consumer groups to address important safety issues raised by the 50% increase in the ethanol mandate,” Sullivan said.

The existing authorisation for ethanol blends in conventional gasolines is 10% (E-10).

Sullivan warned that the E-15 authorisation could adversely affect up to 60% of automobiles on the road, “leading to consumer confusion at the pump and possible engine failure in the cars they drive”.

Separately, Representative Jeff Flake (Republican-Arizona) has offered amendments to the continuing resolution that would bar EPA or other federal agencies from spending money to support installation of retail gasoline station fuelling pumps that could handle higher ethanol blends.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) charged that both the Sullivan and Flake amendments were short-sighted and contrary to US energy interests.

America needs to tighten its belt,” said RFA spokesman Matt Hartwig, referring to the congressional drive to reduce federal spending, “but it should not come at the expense of our energy security.”

Hartwig said that the E-15 authorisation would help reduce US dependence on foreign oil suppliers, and he argued that no evidence has shown that E-15 blends would harm any engines. He said that Flake’s amendment to bar spending on retail pumps for higher ethanol blends would “deny Americans a choice at the pump”.

The US refining and petrochemical sectors have opposed the E-15 approval, along with a variety of other manufacturers and environmental groups.  A federal lawsuit challenging the E-15 ruling was pending.

The Sullivan and Flake amendments to the continuing resolution might well survive in the final House version of the spending bill, but both could face a tougher fight when the Senate takes up the House measure next week.

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