The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Hearing the Facts on E15

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 24, 2013

AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet, at this week’s House hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and its mandates for ever-increasing use of ethanol in America’s fuel supply:

“Ethanol blended fuels have the potential to provide drivers with a welcome choice at the pump, which supports American jobs, promotes American energy independence and can save Americans money. In order to realize these benefits, it is imperative that increased ethanol blends — or any new fuels — are only brought to market when consumers have been clearly informed and protected. The introduction of E15 gasoline to consumers has failed to meet this obligation.”

AAA’s stance is critical. While supportive of ethanol use in the fuel supply – so is the oil and natural gas industry – the organization representing 53 million Americans remains concerned about E15, gasoline containing up to 15 percent ethanol.

E15 is the ethanol lobby’s solution to the refining “blend wall,” the point at which the supply of standard E10 fuel has absorbed all the ethanol it can, given fuel demand. No problem, say groups like the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA): Just blend more ethanol into each gallon of gasoline.

But research shows that E15 could damage engines and fuel pump systems in millions of vehicles on the road today. Automobile manufacturers say damage from E15 use wouldn’t be covered by warranties of vehicles not designed for E15 use. Darbelnet:

“Despite the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waiver, allowing the use of E15 gasoline in model year 2001 and newer vehicles, we learned that far fewer vehicles — a scant five percent — were actually approved for use under warranty by their manufacturer. Most alarmingly, this new fuel entered the market without adequate protections to prevent misfuelings and despite remaining questions about potential vehicle damage, even for EPA-approved 2001 and newer vehicles. For these reasons, AAA called on the EPA and retailers to suspend the sale of E15 until motorists were better protected.”

Darbelnet said Energy Department E15 testing, which ethanol supporters cite as proof the fuel is safe, wasn’t designed to measure reduced engine life and fuel pump failure that could result from using E15. He said both EPA and the RFA have acknowledged that consumers should consult their vehicle manufacturer’s website or an authorized dealership to get recommendations on using E15. Yet, he said, AAA found automakers have approved less than 5 percent of cars on the road today for E15. Darbelnet:

“This leaves a substantial gap between the limited number of vehicles that automakers will cover and the slightly more than 50% of vehicles the EPA has approved to use the fuel. This sort of conflicting information confuses motorists, and AAA believes it is both premature and irresponsible to sell E15 to consumers while these issues remain unresolved.”

More Darbelnet:

“While (ethanol) supporters publically and vocally deny and dismiss the potential damage to motorists’ vehicles and fueling infrastructure that E15 may cause, these same groups do admit that higher ethanol blends may cause damage when it suits their business interests.”

From an organization that a great deal of credibility on consumer issues, these are very stark pronouncements. Other concerned voices from the hearing:

Shane Karr, The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers:

"The Alliance strongly believes that EPA’s decision to approve the use of E15 was made absent critical research and testing results, will likely lead to misfueling and vehicle damage or poor performance; and as a result, may result in a consumer 'backlash' against biofuels."

Todd Teske, Chairman and CEO, Briggs & Stratton Corporation:

"Research has shown, and EPA has agreed, that use of E15 in small non-road engines can have harmful and costly consequences on small engines and outdoor power equipment."

Joseph Petrowski, CEO, Cumberland Gulf Group, on behalf of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America and the National Association of Convenience Stores:

"The motor fuels market in the United States is on the cusp of hitting the so-called 'blend wall,' when the RFS’s annual volume obligations exceed the volume of renewable fuel the market can reasonably absorb. This could cause gasoline and diesel prices to increase, generating severe economic harm throughout the United States."

That last point is important. Beyond impacts on individual consumers, continued implementation of the ethanol mandates in the RFS could result in diesel fuel costs rising by as much as 300 percent and a 30 percent increase in gasoline costs by 2015, according to a study by NERA Economic Consulting. These RFS impacts could cause a $770 billion decrease in U.S. GDP by 2015 and reduce take-home pay for American workers by $580 billion. API President and CEO Jack Gerard from the House hearing:

“The RFS, while well-intentioned, is today completely untethered from reality, and unless it is immediately halted will unnecessarily cost our economy and consumers billions of dollars. … The RFS isn’t just a relic of America’s bygone era of energy scarcity; it is a grave economic threat and must be stopped immediately.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.