The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

EPA and DOE: Ignoring the Science

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted October 14, 2010

Yesterday's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) E15 news release is a classic example of Washington obfuscation. Although it appears to explain the agency's reasons for approving a new fuel blend consisting of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol for 2007 and new vehicles, the news release very cleverly avoids many of the key considerations that should have been part of the E15 decision.

A careful reading of the news release reveals that EPA did not base its E15 approval on whether E15 could damage engines. In the first paragraph, it says:

"EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the decision after a review of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) extensive testing and other available data on E15's impact on engine durability and emissions."

In the next paragraph, however, Jackson makes no mention of engine durability issues. She says:

"Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks."

Of course, most of us don't drive emissions control equipment. We drive our vehicles and expect the engines to operate properly without the fear that they might be damaged by a government-approved fuel. And who is the consumer supposed to trust - the auto manufacturer who built the vehicle and provided a warranty, or a government agency narrowly focused on emissions rather the safety of the motoring public?

Questions also have been raised about the integrity of the DOE testing. It has been confirmed that DOE withdrew funding from another Coordinating Research Council (CRC) project on Onboard Diagnostics (OBD or check engine lights) because it didn't want to know too much about the findings and didn't want to risk delaying EPA's E15 approval once again. It's speculated that DOE wanted plausible deniability instead of the facts, in case the politically-motivated E15 decision turned out to be a bad move for American consumers. Despite the government pullback, the auto and oil industries are intent on continuing this vital research.

EPA's news release also was silent on the fact that high ethanol-content fuels can lead to leakage around the valves and degrade the emissions control equipment. Check out the CRC chart below and review the entire presentation here to see how emissions were affected by E20, requiring additional testing:

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One final thought: EPA's own mission statement says, among other things, its role is to ensure "national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information." In the case of E15, the "best" scientific tests are still being conducted and won't be completed until early next year.

The E15 decision makes clear that EPA's mid-October E15 approval was aimed at garnering votes in the Corn Belt, not at protecting the environment or American consumers. It also adds to the mounting evidence indicating that the agency has become the administration's enforcer of policies that fit into its political agenda with little or no concern for the environment, the consumer, or the economy.


Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.