Is E15 On Regulatory Life Support?

A little over a month since the EPA announced an ill-conceived policy initiative that would allow higher levels of ethanol into gasoline, the plan was put on hold after a fierce public and private sector outcry that included the efforts of HVA. But don’t count E15 out yet.

Its often been said that politics makes strange bed-fellows. The recent events surrounding E15 fuel and ethanol tax subsidies certainly proved that. Since HVA’s last, the government’s E15 announcement put the oil industry and environmental groups on the same side—a true, political Haley’s comet. In short order, this action has forced a delay in decision on further implementation of E15 and gave the U.S. Senate an opportunity to end ethanol subsidies altogether.

Here are the details that have fueled these recent events and the HVA’s efforts to keep steady pressure on regulators and lawmakers:

The Environmental Protection Agency has said it would delay until first or second quarter 2011 its decision regarding whether E15 is safe for 2001-06 cars and light trucks.

At best, this decision is a nod to the serious, complex, and unresolved issues surrounding higher blend levels of ethanol. At its worst, this decision is a backhanded acknowledgement that moving ahead with E15 fuel was premature and ill-advised.

While we may never know the EPA’s actual motive for the delay, there is strong evidence to suggest the authorization of E15 was premature and not supported by the limited testing conducted.

According to section 211(f)(4), the provision of the Clean Air Act the EPA relied upon in authorizing E15, any new fuel proposed for introduction into commerce must be, among other things, “substantially similar” to pre-existing fuels. In addition, they must prove it will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission or engine component over the useful life of the vehicle.

The EPA clearly did not have this required proof. To support its initial authorization of E15, the EPA only relied on one study done by the Department of Energy. That study only tested 16 vehicles, a sample size that was even called “too small” by one of the authors of the study. It also failed to include an analysis of the “useful life” of the vehicles and engines —a requirement clearly spelled out in the law.

Did officials stop short of the “useful life” cycle analysis because the data was not positive? We know from the study that 7 out of 16 vehicles (43-percent) ran at higher temperatures, which can easily lead to higher emissions and fuel system component deterioration. Another compelling point that tends to corroborate this conclusion is the fact that E15 use can void many new car warranties.

Despite the mounting evidence against E15, Washington appears to be responding with “business as usual” politics. This week the U.S. Senate had a chance to end the $6 billion annual tax subsidy for the ethanol industry and didn’t take advantage of it. This vote was aggressively opposed by a growing and diverse coalition of interest groups that included the HVA.

All of this is political, technical, and scientific debate doesn’t change what almost every collector already knows: E15 in gasoline is a poison pill for historic vehicles. We are truly grateful that the EPA delay has granted us “a temporary stay from execution,” but it’s is becoming increasingly clear that we may eventually have to resort to the third branch of government—the courts—to stop E15. The HVA is prepared to do just that.

Help us keep the momentum going and the pressure on by spreading the word about our petition, which you can find here. Together we will continue to succeed at driving change and “keep yesterday’s vehicles on tomorrow’s roads.”

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