The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

E15 and the 95 Percent

Bob Greco

Bob Greco
Posted November 6, 2013

They’re at it again. The ethanol lobby’s biggest voice, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), issued a press release last week trying to defend E15, the controversial fuel blend containing up to 15 percent ethanol. Only in this case, RFA was defending against an imaginary argument.

RFA claims the development of new vehicle models that can withstand E15 – which research has shown could damage engines and fuel systems in models that weren’t designed to use it – “shines a bright light on Big Oil’s long-sustained, detrimental resistance to infrastructure build out.”

It’s an imaginary argument because no one opposed the increasing availability of E15-compatible cars. The problem with E15 is the 95 percent of the vehicle fleet that isn’t built to handle E15 and the retroactive nature of the E15 partial waiver.

Additionally, framing this issue as a battle with “Big Oil” is overplayed and a mischaracterization of the problem. A diverse number of groups – from AAA, to the American Motorcyclist Association, to more than 160 members of the U.S. House of Representatives – have expressed significant concerns over E15. Not to mention the 13 automobile manufacturers that explicitly told Congress that their pre-2012 vehicles were not built to be compatible with E15 and that their warranties could be voided by using E15 in those vehicles.

EPA’s decision to force E15 into the market despite the lack of consumer demand is heavy handed at best, and irresponsible at worst. Before a comprehensive ongoing research program on mid-level ethanol blends had been completed, the EPA approved E15. Currently, the vast majority of the fleet is not designed or warranted to use E15, meaning approximately 95 percent of the vehicle fleet in the U.S. is not compatible with E15. Add to that is the fact EPA is doing little to prevent misfueling, and the current mandates could be considered reckless.

Meanwhile, RFA is touting the fact that some new models will be able to use E15. The RFA’s press release brags, “[m]ore than 70 percent of the Top 20 best-selling cars as identified by Edmunds/AOL Auto have been explicitly approved by automakers to use E15 in 2014 models.”

First, auto sales fluctuate month-to-month, so there’s no data to support the idea that the top models in 2013 will match the top models in 2014. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop RFA from cherry-picking data to create “facts” that support ever-increasing use of ethanol despite real data that strongly argues the ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard could negatively impact consumers and the broader economy.

Second, as of July 1, 2013, more than 53 percent of the top 10 light-duty vehicles sold in the first six months of the year were not E15 compatible.

The owners of gasoline stations, the vast majority of whom are small business men and women, must make marketing decisions on which fuels to sell based on the total vehicle fleet, not one month’s worth (or even one year’s worth) of new vehicle sales.

Certainly, RFA can argue that E15 should be sold to the 5 to 7 percent of vehicles that can safely use it. But no one should be surprised if gasoline station owners choose not to make significant investments to make their stations compatible with E15 – instead choosing to keep focusing on the majority of new vehicles and the 95 percent of the rest of the fleet for which E15 isn’t compatible.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Greco is group director of downstream and industry operations at the American Petroleum Institute. With 21 years of experience, Bob directs activities related to refining, pipeline, marketing, and fuels issues. He has managed exploration and production activities, policy analysis, climate change issues, marine transportation, refining, gasoline and jet fuel production issues and Clean Air Act implementation efforts. Before coming to API, Bob was an environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with expertise in automotive emission control technologies. He has a M.S. degree in environmental engineering from Cornell University and a B.A. in biology from Colgate University.