EPA’s E15 waiver ‘dangerous’ (Editorial)

The U.S. EPA recently gave its final approval to the sale of E15, fuel made of 15 percent ethanol. The agency’s approval of fuel companies’ misfueling mitigation plans was the last regulatory hurdle before retailers could sell E15 fuel for use in vehicles made in 2001 and later. A group representing the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute and others has challenged the EPA decision, saying "consumers are being placed in an untenable position" and may seriously damage engines of other equipment by misfueling.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack trumpeted the news in a prepared statement. “This gets us one step closer to giving the American consumer a real choice at the pump,” he said. “The public has a right to choose between imported oil and home-grown energy and today's action by the [EPA] advances that goal....
"The EPA has fulfilled its responsibility to the American public to ensure that E15 is a safe and reliable fuel. Home grown biofuels are providing sustainable rural jobs that cannot be exported. Today's action proves yet again that renewable biofuels are not a dream of the future, but are a reality, and are making a difference today."
However, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute issued a warning that the EPA’s ruling is dangerous. The OPEI is an international trade association representing more than 80 engine and equipment manufacturers worldwide in the utility, forestry, landscape, and lawn and garden industry. It is one of the industry groups who have been sending warnings to the federal government about E15 for quite some time. Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI, said, "The government’s test results show E15 is harmful to outdoor power equipment, boats and marine engines and other non-road engine products. The fuel used for automobiles and other engine products would have to be divided, substantially increasing the risk for misfueling, significant engine damage and consumer hazard.
“For the first time in American history, fuel used for some automobiles may no longer safe for any non-road products. It may, in fact, destroy or damage generators, chain saws, utility vehicles, lawn mowers, boats and marine engines, snowmobiles, motorcycles, ATVs, and more,” Kiser continued.
By extending a partial waiver, the EPA has said "it's okay to have some gas for some stuff," Kiser explained in a telephone interview on June 26, but he does not anticipate separate fuels being available.
In September 2011, members of the Engine Products Group (OPEI, National Marine Manufacturers Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Global Auto-makers) filed a formal legal challenge to EPA’s E15 partial waiver decision. The EPG maintains that the agency had no authority to extend a partial waiver and has asked the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the E15 waiver decision.
Kiser said the decision on this matter is expected to be issued by the court before July 4. "We are cautiously optimistic that the court will rule in our favor," he said. The EPG had asked that a second part of the suit, regarding misfueling, be held in obeyance until a decision was reached on the partial waiver. "If that decision is against us, we will go ahead," he said.
Said Kiser, “EPA purports to educate tens of millions of Americans using hundreds of millions of engine products, asserting it will educate these users with a 3 inch by 3 inch pump label. It’s frighteningly inadequate.” Kiser added that people often make purchase decisions based on price and will buy the cheaper fuel, regardless of the label on the pump.
Many times OPEI has pointed out that the EPA’s prior experience with the introduction of new fuels shows that labeling alone is insufficient to prevent misfueling. As the EPA led the transition to unleaded fuels, the Agency reported a misfueling rate of nearly 15 percent almost 10 years after the introduction of unleaded gasoline, and even with a physical barrier at the pumps.
With the change to unleaded gas, there may have been adverse emissions, but the engines were fine. With E15, there may be engine damage, even catastrophic failure, Kiser warned.
Lynne Hoot, executive director of Maryland Grain Producers Association, said, “MGPA is extremely pleased that EPA has given final approval to the use of E15 in vehicles year 2000 and newer.  In reality, this will provide an opportunity for drivers of Flexible Fuel Vehicles and vehicles built after 2000 to have another fuel option.  Dispensers will be clearly marked that the fuel is not approved for use in older vehicles or marine and small engines. We anticipate that the market for E15 will develop with the use of blended pumps where consumers will get to select their required blend:  E85 for flexible fuel vehicles, E15 for newer vehicles and E10 or without ethanol for everyone else. These blender pumps will also see the development for E20 and E30 for FFVs.
Hoot continued, “Congress passed the renewable fuel standard to produce up to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  We need to establish a market for higher blend fuels so we can meet this goal. Today ethanol provides 25 percent of the domestically produced fuel for gasoline engines.  Domestic gasoline production is 39 billion gallons and ethanol is 13 billion gallons per year.
“I don’t think people understand the progress that ethanol has made today in reducing our dependence of foreign oil,” she said.
Kiser asserted that he is not “anti-ethanol.” Manufacturers can design engines to run on E15 or higher, but this issue should be done in the right way, he said, with advance notice that a given fuel is going to be used and enough lead time to prepare for that fuel.
While energy independence is a good thing for our country, and ethanol production is good for our farmers, creating a situation where misfueling and engine failure is bound to happen just doesn’t make sense.