US regulator criticised for use of waivers for 15% ethanol blends

08 July 2011 14:55  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent waiver decisions permitting mid-level ethanol blends of up to 15% (E15) in gasoline faced much criticism at a US House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on Thursday.

Of the seven panellists at the hearing, only Margo Oge, the director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, spoke in support of the waivers.

The US government allows waivers for prohibited fuels or fuel additives if the applicant, in this case Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers, can demonstrate that the new fuel or additive will not cause or contribute to the failure of engines, vehicles or equipment meeting emissions standards.

The EPA recently approved the use of E15 in model year 2001-2006 light-duty vehicles and model year 2007 and up for cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles.

Oge said current scientific data indicates that E15 meets these standards with no need for additional studies.

However, Oge’s fellow witnesses disagreed.

Bob Greco of the American Petroleum Institute (API) said further studies of E15’s impact on engines is sorely needed.

“[E15] contains 50% oxygen, well outside the range for which US vehicles and engines are designed and warranted,” he said. “It is important to evaluate the short- and long-term impacts of this new fuel on the environment and on engine and vehicle performance and safety.”

Additionally, the expanded market of corn ethanol has further led to an oversupply of corn that was partly created by crop subsidies, price and income supports, said Heather White, the chief of staff general counsel for the Environmental Working Group.

“We believe the government should play a strong leadership and regulatory role in shaping the nation’s energy future,” she said. “But making additional market distorting commitments to corn ethanol is not the way to get there.”

Current scientific data does not support the EPA’s waiver, she said.

“Higher ethanol blends lead to more toxic air pollution, low gas mileage, more leaks from underground storage tanks, greater potential for drinking water contamination and damage to older cars and trucks and small engines,” she said.

Several lawmakers also expressed their concern about the possibility of misfuelling, which can lead to the invalidation of auto warranties and potential catastrophic failure of millions of small engines.

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) called the hearing a witch hunt.

Ethanol remains the only alternative to gasoline that is capable of lowering prices, the RFA said in a statement.

“The posturing at this hearing aside, the RFA is committed to finding solutions,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen.

“We would welcome a dialogue with automakers about any concerns they may have. The RFA seeks to find ways to make sure consumers, automakers and gasoline retailers are informed and comfortable using higher level ethanol blends," he said.

For more on ethanol visit ICIS chemical intelligence

By: Bobbie Clark
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