Oil Industry and Food and Farm Groups Sue EPA Over Increase in Ethanol Blend

By Scott Doggett November 9, 2010

EPA-logo.jpgBy Scott Doggett, Contributing Editor

The American Petroleum Institute and nine food and farm groups today sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over last month's ruling that E15 - a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline - can be used in some newer vehicles.

The API and the food and farm groups, in two separate legal challenges, contend that the EPA's approval - technically a waiver that allows for E15 to be used in cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles from model year 2007 and thereafter - violates the Clean Air Act.

The waiver does not mandate the use of E15 in these vehicles, but rather it gives the green light for its use in them. Since 1979, a blend of up to 10 percent ethanol has been used for all conventional cars and light trucks, and non-road vehicles.

Ethanol is widely used as a gasoline additive to increase combustion and, recently, there has been increased pressure on the federal agency from the powerful ethanol industry to increase the percentage of the controversial fuel in the blend.

API's group director of downstream operations, Bob Greco, called EPA's decision "premature" and said it "puts consumers at risk." He said that testing by the oil-and-gas industry, automakers and the Department of Energy on whether E15 is safe is not yet complete.

"Results so far have revealed potential safety and performance problems that could affect consumers and the investments they've made in their automobiles," he said.

A coalition of major auto and motorcycle makers as well as manufacturers of gasoline-powered off-road products such as jet skis and emergency generators have opposed the idea of increasing the blend from E10, saying that the additional ethanol - an alcohol fuel - could damage metal, plastic and rubber parts in older vehicles' fuel systems and non-automotive engines that were not designed to use ethanol.

Nine food and farm groups - including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Meat Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the National Pork Producers Council - also filed a lawsuit today against the EPA's decision.

In response to a request by Green Car Advisor for comment regarding the lawsuits, EPA Deputy Press Secretary Betsaida Alcantara said the agency's "decision was based on strict adherence to the Clean Air Act and was grounded firmly in science. The agency relied on rigorous testing that the Energy Department did on 19 car models, in consultation with automakers and fuel suppliers. This decision is sound, and the agency is confident that it will withstand legal challenge."    

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, whose company has led the ethanol industry's push for EPA to approve the E15 blend, attacked the food and farm groups in a statement today, claiming that "in 2008, these big food companies gouged consumers while trying to shift the blame to America's ethanol producers and farmers, so we're not surprised by their actions today."

"Having been unable to dispute the overwhelming science in favor of E15, they are now turning to the legal process to slow progress on renewable fuels," Buis said. "We will fully evaluate their lawsuit, but the expansion of renewable fuels in America should be based on science. As extensive testing has shown, E15 is a good fuel for American motorists."

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated an increase in the overall volume of renewable fuels into the U.S. marketplace reaching a 36 billion gallon total in 2022. Ethanol is considered a renewable fuel because it is produced from plant products or wastes and not from fossil fuels.

The E15 petition was submitted to the EPA by Growth Energy and 54 ethanol manufacturers in March 2009 under a Clean Air Act provision that allows EPA to waive the act's prohibition against the sale of a significantly altered fuel if the petitioner shows that the new fuel will not cause or contribute to the failure of the engine parts that ensure compliance with the act's emissions limits.

EPA also might soon decide whether the higher ethanol blend is suitable for cars and light trucks in model years 2001 through 2006. The DOE is expected to complete testing on those model-year vehicles this month.

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