Ag Policy Blog

Battle Rages on E15

By Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter

Though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15 in vehicles 2001 and newer the ultimate fate of the fuel that is struggling to gain market traction could be determined by an ongoing battle in Washington.

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate's environment subcommittee of the committee on science, space and technology held a hearing designed to look at mid-level ethanol blends such as E15.

Leading up to the hearing ethanol industry groups cried foul noting that not a single ethanol industry representative was called to testify.

The hearing included testimony from Robert L. Darbelnet, president and chief executive officer of the American Automobile Association, Wayne Allard, vice president of government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association, and Mike Leister, member of the board of directors for the Coordinating Research Council.

Darbelnet told the committee in his written testimony that AAA supports the use of ethanol but is uncomfortable with the notion that so few auto manufacturers stand by their engine warranties if E15 is used.

"We believe that consumer protection and education, supported by clear and thoughtful research, is not just a priority, it is an obligation," he said.

"The introduction of E15 gasoline to consumers has failed to meet this obligation. In November of last year -- several months after E15 was first sold to motorists -- a AAA survey found that 95% of consumers had never heard of the fuel. Additionally, despite the Environmental Protection Agency waiver allowing the use of E15 gasoline in model year 2001 and newer vehicles, we learned that far fewer vehicles -- a scant 5% -- were actually approved for use under warranty by their manufacturer."

There is movement in Congress to ban the use of E15. In the Senate Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced a bill that would prohibit the EPA from allowing the commercial use of ethanol blends above E10. Senate Bill 344 has been referred to the Senate committee on environment and public works.

Chuck Beck, public affairs director for the American Coalition for Ethanol, said so far a companion bill has not been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, and that President Barack Obama has been a strong ethanol supporter and unlikely to sign legislation banning E15.

In a letter, http://tinyurl.com/…, sent to the committee, Renewable Fuels Association President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Dinneen pointed to oil-industry influence for a lack of 'balance' at the hearing.

"It both saddens and angers me that in this day and age such a lopsided, stacked hearing could actually happen," he writes.

"It is shameful to see how tight of a grip oil companies have on Congress. Big oil is running scared because their profit-gouging monopoly is threatened by Americans' desire for fuel choice and savings. Ethanol and E15 are gaining momentum. Science and consumer demand are on our side. The facts and our track record will speak louder than any scare tactic."

During the hearing the CRC's Mike Leister presented the results of the CRC's study on the effects of E15 blends on vehicles. That study found that fuel systems in vehicles tested were adversely affected by the ethanol blend.

The ethanol industry has countered in recent weeks that the CRC study was flawed on numerous fronts, including that the vehicles tested already had documented problems with their fuel systems.

"Such a non-representative sample should raise a red flag in the science and technology community, yet CRC and the oil industry have been practically unchallenged in their characterization of CRC Project CM-136-09-1 as a test that is representative of the vehicle fleet in general," ACE Senior Vice President Ron Lamberty wrote in a letter to the committee, http://tinyurl.com/….

"What Congress needs to investigate is why the oil companies are misleading it into eliminating their only real competition, and why this contrived CRC research is not being more fully analyzed."

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Bonnie Dukowitz 3/1/2013 | 7:20 PM CST
Continue Jay. Not just the mountain top for coal but the whole mountain to get enough rare earths to manufacture a storage battery to get to the coffee shop at the expense of the taxpayer to afford garnering more facts of coffee shop knowledge.
Jay Mcginnis 2/28/2013 | 7:19 AM CST
Thank you Lon, your article surely shows the sad situation the poor oil corporations are up against in Washington. We all know that the real world is where we live, oil spills, carbon emissions, tar sand excavation, mountain top removal for coal,,, all needed to make a buck. Without full reign of capitalist gain there is no way corporations can make enough money to give us $7/hr jobs! Wind, solar, geothermal, electric cars is just pie in the sky, we need less regulation of fossil fuels so we can live like the Chineese.
Lon Truly 2/27/2013 | 12:25 PM CST
Defying Courts And Congress, EPA Ups Mandate For Nonexistent Fuels
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
Energy: In yet another green folly, the lawless Environmental Protection Agency continues to fine gasoline producers for not using cellulosic biofuels in quantities that don't exist, making only more pain at the pump.

Last month, a federal court dealt a serious blow to the Environmental Protection Agency's renewable fuels push by ruling that the agency exceeded its authority by mandating refiners use cellulosic biofuels, which aren't commercially available. The EPA's lawless response in a lawless administration was to raise its requirements.

In 2005 and 2007, Congress twice amended the Clean Air Act to establish a renewable fuel standard (RFS) that included a mandate to use cellulosic biofuels.

If refiners failed to meet the goals, the EPA could fine them. The RFS set ambitious goals for cellulosic biofuels but at least charged the EPA with reducing the requirement if production was lower than the mandate.

This the EPA simply ignored, issuing fines for failing to use this biofuel when it wasn't even available.

As Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner points out in Politico, 2010, the first year of the mandate, the EPA projected 5 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels would be available.

In fact, there were none. In 2011, the EPA increased the mandate to 6.5 million gallons. Again, the actual amount available was zero. Undeterred, in 2012, the EPA increased the required amount to 8.5 million gallons. The actual available amount was 25,000 gallons.

This absurdity prompted the American Petroleum Institute (API) to file a lawsuit last year challenging the EPA's rulemaking. The API petitioned the court to review the EPA's January 2012 RFS.

On Jan. 25, 2013, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed the EPA had exceeded its authority. "(W)e agree with API that EPA's 2012 projection of cellulosic biofuel production was in excess of the agency's statutory authority," reads the court decision.

The court further told the agency: "The EPA points to no instance in which the term 'projected' is used to allow the projector to let its aspiration for a self-fulfilling prophecy divert it from a neutral methodology."

The agency's response to the court's ruling, Sensenbrenner notes, was to nearly double its 2013 mandate from 8.5 million gallons to 14 million gallons.

Different from corn- or sugar-based ethanol â?” which have questionable benefits â?” cellulosic ethanol is made from wood chips, switch grass and agricultural waste, such as corncobs.

The EPA's requirement for 14 million gallons of the stuff is about as realistic as that trillion-dollar coin some have proposed to solve our fiscal problems.

Sensenbrenner believes the EPA's policies and intransigence in the face of the law and reality are deliberate.

In response to a letter he sent to the agency, the EPA wrote, "the standard that we set helps drive the production of volumes that will be made available." In other words, the Obama administration's environmental goals trump the law, the courts and industry capacity.

If you can't meet our unrealistic goal, the EPA says, too bad. Just pass the costs on to the consumer, something for which the consumer will blame you, not us.

As Tom Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research says, "the cellulosic biofuel program is the embodiment of government gone wild."

Charles Drevna, President of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a group of refiners, adds, "forcing us to use a product that doesn't exist, they might as well tell us to use unicorns."

Of course, this comes from an Obama administration that insists we put more and more food in our tanks in the form of corn ethanol, even if it raises food prices, or produces less energy than a gallon of gasoline, and increases agricultural runoff into streams and rivers. It mandates the use of costly seasonal and regional blends.

And don't forget algae â?” the energy source of the future.