Jane Van Ryan
Posted November 24, 2010
Here is a prime example of what can happen when Congress and the administration tamper with the free market system to impose their will on the American public. Simply put, their meddling can create major headaches for consumers.
At issue is the government's attempt to force-feed ethanol into the nation's gasoline pool. As reported by Reuters, "cellulosic production has not grown as rapidly as Congress had hoped." As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to lower the cellulosic mandate by 93 to 98 percent below the 250 million gallons set by Congress for 2011.
At the same time, however, the congressional mandate is forcing the need for higher amounts of ethanol in gasoline. To respond to the mandate, EPA is promoting a new fuel - gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol by volume (E15) - and has approved it for the marketplace before it has been tested adequately.
As API's Patrick Kelly testified at an EPA hearing in Chicago recently, it is quite possible that E15 could harm consumers' vehicles as well as small engines used in their nonroad equipment (chainsaws, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, jet skis, etc). It also could lead manufacturers to void warranties, leaving consumers stuck with expensive repairs.
Preliminary research shows E15 in any vehicle, including the 2007 model year and newer vehicles designated by EPA as suitable for E15, has the potential for increased triggering of on-board diagnostics (OBD) malfunction indicator lights. The Coordinating Research Council, which includes the auto industry and the oil industry, is examining the possibility of increased valve seat wear and catalyst damage in vehicles running on ethanol blends higher than E10 - 10 percent ethanol combined with 90 percent gasoline. Until the research is complete and potential issues are understood, EPA's E15 partial waiver is premature.
It is also possible to misfuel small engines such as lawnmowers and chainsaws. As Patrick explained during the hearing, "The likely damage to small engines is great and the ALLSAFE group reported significant safety concerns for handheld equipment...We would like to know if the EPA is aware of any small engines being designed to accommodate E15."
Could the government's rush to increase the market for ethanol be headed for a train wreck? It's clear that the much-touted cellulosic ethanol isn't meeting production goals. And by granting a waiver for E15, EPA could be risking the safety and mobility of American consumers.
But who will consumers blame if their vehicles break down or their weed eaters stop working? The government? Unless they have heard the warnings about this new fuel, they could unfairly blame gasoline retailers. Therefore, in API's view it is critically important that EPA launch a public education campaign about the potential risks of E15 and not hold manufacturers, distributors or retailers responsible for misfueling.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.