With E15, the ethanol industry wins, but American consumers lose
Technology has advanced over the years to provide consumers today with high-tech automobiles that run smoothly, efficiently and are easy to maintain. Americans feel confident when they pull into a gas station that the fuel they’re putting into their cars, and using in their outdoor power equipment, is safe and reliable. But, this is about to change, if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has its way.
In a move likely to take that confidence away from the American consumer, EPA decided to allow the use of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) for model year motor vehicles 2001 and newer, a 50 percent increase from the current limit of 10 percent ethanol (E10). In its rush to force E15 on the market, the EPA neglected to conduct basic testing necessary to ensure the safety of American consumers. Rather, it placed political science and largesse for the ethanol industry ahead of real science and consumer welfare.
Furthermore, under the Renewable Fuels Standard, or RFS, refiners will likely be mandated to blend increasing amounts of biofuels, of which primarily ethanol is a significant portion of the mandate, into the fuel supply, eventually reaching 36 billion gallons by 2022.
The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association (AFPM), representing U.S. refiners, along with a number of other industries and organizations, including automakers, small equipment and boat manufacturers and owners, motorcycle groups, food groups and the environmental community, are highly concerned with the host of potential problems in allowing E15 into commercial use. Regardless of EPA’s blind approval of its use, studies have shown that it’s not suitable for any gasoline-powered engine, including ones EPA has deemed capable of running on E15.
A recent study by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC) found that the use of E15 can result in significant engine damage in newer vehicles. Nearly 5 million vehicles currently on the road have similar characteristics to the newer vehicles that failed in the study.
We have repeatedly called on EPA to conduct thorough and objective scientific tests on the impact of E15 on gasoline engines before authorizing use of the fuel. Testing conducted by the Department of Energy of E15 simply looked at the ability of the pollution control equipment of some cars to stand up to E15. The DOE did not conduct needed testing to determine the impact of the fuel on engine durability; tolerance of the check-engine light; durability of other important components, such as the fuel pump and the fuel level sensor; and a number of other automotive functions.
By acting without adequate scientific evidence to approve the use of E15, EPA has created safety, operability and liability concerns regarding the operation of the vehicles and outdoor power equipment used by hundreds of millions of Americans every day.
Perhaps the strongest indictment of EPA’s certification of E15 came from automakers in a response to Congressional inquiries. Without exception, the auto manufacturers responded that use of E15, even in their newest vehicles, would damage engines, void warranties and reduce fuel efficiencies. Interestingly, the gas caps of many new cars sold today explicitly warn consumers NOT to use E15.
But most cars on the road today, powerboats and power outdoor equipment do not come with this warning, and once E15 is available, misfueling will be a problem. Regardless of the warning signs the EPA requires gasoline retailers to post at pumps, many consumers will undoubtedly put E15 into older cars and trucks and use it in outdoor power equipment, motorcycles, boats and snowmobiles.
Some of the misfueling will be unintentional—consumers not paying attention to warning labels on pumps, or filling gasoline cans to run their lawnmowers and chain saws after they fill up their cars. But, some misfueling could be deliberate because E15 may appear slightly cheaper than E10 gasoline at times. However, many consumers may not realize that ethanol is less energy efficient than gasoline and provides lower fuel economy, eliminating—and indeed reversing—the perceived lower price.
Misfueling is also likely in other gasoline engines and could have detrimental effects. Snowmobile engines could stop miles from shelter and boat engines could fail in the middle of the ocean. Chain saws could overheat and run when their operators wanted them off, endangering operator safety.
AFPM is not anti-ethanol. Our members blend it with gasoline every day to manufacture the E10 fuel that safely powers most U.S. vehicles. However, we want to be sure that adding greater amounts of ethanol to gasoline is safe for consumers and will not damage engines.
Unfortunately, our legal challenge to EPA’s E15 waiver has not been successful. In late August, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided to dismiss, on purely procedural grounds, a lawsuit from AFPM and other industry groups challenging the waiver to increase the ethanol content.
Despite this setback, AFPM will continue to fight this costly and unworkable mandate. Refiners do not want to sell fuel to consumers that could damage engines or worse, place them at risk. Entirely too much is at stake to allow EPA to move ahead with this dangerous agenda.