E15 avail­abil­ity de­bate hits tip­ping point

Ethanol restric­tion bill has bi­par­ti­san sup­port in Se­nate

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

For gaso­line re­tail­ers, it’s an an­nual tra­di­tion: Each sum­mer, fed­eral law re­quires them to swap out the higher-blend ethanol fuel E15 from their pumps to com­ply with EPA reg­u­la­tions that limit ground-level ozone.

But the de­bate over whether E15 — gaso­line blended with 15 per­cent ethanol, an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive to the com­mon E10 fuel at gas sta­tions na­tion­wide — should be avail­able year-round has reached a tip­ping point, and a bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of sen­a­tors is push­ing leg­is­la­tion to lift the fed­eral re­stric­tions that ethanol pro­po­nents say are out­dated, un­nec­es­sary, and ac­tu­ally re­sult in more pol­lu­tion, not less.

The bill would waive rules that pre­vent E15, now avail­able in 29 states, from be­ing sold be­tween June and Septem­ber, a reg­u­la­tory struc­ture ini­tially put in place to curb ozone that causes in­creased lev­els of smog dur­ing hot sum­mer months. The bat­tle has split both po­lit­i­cal par­ties and pits en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, small-en­gine mak­ers and oth­ers against the ethanol sec­tor and its back­ers in Con­gress.

Ethanol pro­po­nents ar­gue that the reg­u­la­tions are mis­guided, par­tic­u­larly in light of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances that have made E15 as clean-burn­ing as its E10 coun­ter­part.

They also con­tend that the cur­rent sum­mer reg­u­la­tions greatly re­strict the bio­fu­els in­dus­try, mainly be­cause some gaso­line re­tail­ers choose not to sell E15 at all rather than carry it for nine months and re­move it for the other three.

“On­go­ing bio­fuel in­dus­try growth — par­tic­u­larly in ad­vanced bio­fu­els — will de­pend on in­creased syn­chro­niza­tion be­tween the broader pol­icy goal of in­creased bio­fuel use and the gaso­line/mo­tor fuel reg­u­la­tions that re­strict or fa­cil­i­tate those out­comes,” Brooke Cole­man, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ad­vanced Bio­fu­els Busi­ness Coun­cil, said in tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate En­vi­ron­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee at a hear­ing Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

That panel will soon con­sider leg­is­la­tion that will al­low E15 to be sold year-round. The bill has co-spon­sors from both par­ties, and is chiefly backed by sen­a­tors in Mid­west­ern states that have greatly ben­e­fited from the ex­plo­sion of the do­mes­tic corn ethanol in­dus­try.

But the com­mit­tee chair­man, Sen. John Bar­rasso, Wy­oming Repub­li­can, said he op­poses the bill.

“In Wy­oming, folks want fuel with less, not more, ethanol,” he said at the hear­ing. “They have seen what ethanol does to small en­gines and boat en­gines. They worry what fuel with more ethanol will do to their car en­gines, and who will be stuck pay­ing the bill.”

In­deed, lead­ing op­po­nents of the mea­sure ar­gue that year-round E15 sales will re­sult in “mis­fu­el­ing” by cus­tomers who put the fuel in cars, small en­gines, and other prod­ucts that can’t han­dle such a high level of ethanol.

“It’s go­ing to take a con­certed ef­fort with in­dus­try and gov­ern­ment to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the risks of mis­fu­el­ing with ethanol,” said Todd Teske, pres­i­dent of Briggs & Stratton, a lead­ing small en­gine man­u­fac­turer.

Sup­port­ers of E15 sales in the re­tail sec­tor say the an­nual change ac­tu­ally leads to more mis­fu­el­ing, not less, since cus­tomers may be used to get­ting the fuel at a par­tic­u­lar gas sta­tion and don’t re­al­ize it’s no longer avail­able. They also ar­gue the yearly switch is in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive.

“In ad­di­tion to lost sales dur­ing the sum­mer, re­la­bel­ing will cost re­tail­ers roughly $2 mil­lion this year and pos­si­bly $5 mil­lion next year,” said Mike Lorenz, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Sheetz, a top con­ve­nience store chain.

In the end, there seem to be few clear an­swers, as re­search is mixed on whether E15 leads to more pol­lu­tion and whether its year­round avail­abil­ity will lead to more en­gine fail­ures.

“We’ve heard that these fu­els cre­ate a car­bon sink and we’ve heard they cre­ate more glob­al­warm­ing gases,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Ore­gon Demo­crat. “We’ve heard they dam­age en­gines, we’ve heard they don’t dam­age en­gines. We’ve heard there’s a mis­fu­el­ing prob­lem and we’ve heard there’s no mis­fu­el­ing prob­lem.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of sen­a­tors is push­ing leg­is­la­tion to lift fed­eral re­stric­tions that ethanol pro­po­nents say are out­dated and un­nec­es­sary. Bill would waive rules that pre­vent E15 from be­ing sold be­tween June and Septem­ber. The reg­u­la­tions were ini­tially put in place to curb sum­mer­time smog.

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