Tuesday, December 01, 2009

EPA May Grant Ethanol Waiver; But More Testing Needed

Dec 1: U.S. EPA announced that it expects to make a final determination in mid-2010 regarding whether to increase the allowable ethanol content in fuel. In a letter sent today (December 1) to Growth Energy -- a bio fuels industry association that had asked EPA to grant a waiver that would allow for the use of up to 15 percent of ethanol in gasoline -- the Agency said that while not all tests have been completed, "the results of two tests indicate that engines in newer cars likely can handle an ethanol blend higher than the current 10-percent limit." The Agency will decide whether to raise the blending limit when more testing data is available. EPA also announced that it has begun the process to craft the labeling requirements that will be necessary if the blending limit is raised.

In March 2009, Growth Energy requested a waiver to allow for the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline, an increase of five percent points. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was required to respond to the waiver request by December 1, 2009. EPA has been evaluating the group’s request and has received a broad range of public comments as part of the administrative rulemaking process. EPA and the Department of Energy also undertook a number of studies to determine whether cars could handle higher ethanol blends. Testing has been proceeding as quickly as possible given the available testing facilities. The current limit on the amount of ethanol that can be blended into a gallon of gasoline is at ten volume percent ethanol (E10) for conventional (non flex-fuel) vehicles. Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers submitted the application requesting an increase in the amount of ethanol blended into a gallon of gasoline to up to 15 volume percent (E15) on March 6, 2009. EPA conducted an extended comment period that ended on July 20, 2009 [See WIMS 5/15/09].

Despite support for the E15 waiver by 10 Midwestern governors supporting the proposal [
See WIMS 7/17/09], the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance). AIAM said, "The consequence of potential equipment malfunctions caused by the use of E15 extends beyond failure to sufficiently control emissions. It will also create a high risk of consumer dissatisfaction due to drivability problems which would needlessly damage product reputation and imperil customer satisfaction with dealer service." The Alliance asked "EPA to deny this waiver application, in whole and in part, because insufficient data are available to determine whether the proposed fuel blend(s) can satisfy the legal requirements under the Clean Air Act section 211(f)(4)." [See WIMS 7/21/09].

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement on the ethanol waiver request saying, "We are very encouraged that the results of the tests of E15 in newer model cars have been positive. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) movement towards developing an effective labeling rule sends a strong signal about the future viability of the biofuels industry. Biofuels are a vital component of America's energy future, helping to break our dependence on oil. This commitment reflects the Obama Administration's support for a strong biofuels industry helping to increase income for farmers and jobs in rural America."

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a release supporting EPA's decision to postpone approving any increase in the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline saying, "More ethanol in gasoline could increase tailpipe pollution or damage older vehicles." UCS said, "The Obama administration is respecting the role of science and resisting industry pressure to put private interests ahead of public health and the environment. Raising ethanol blend percentages without testing what it would do to air quality and vehicle engines is like going in for surgery before getting a diagnosis. It wouldn't be good for the industry or the environment to rush ahead only to find out later that we guessed wrong."

Access a release from EPA (
click here). Access links to EPA's letter to petitioners and complete background information on the E15 waiver (click here). Access the statement from USDA (click here). Access a release from UCS (click here).