Upfront: Ethanol battle heating up

By Steve Noe

The battle over ethanol-blended fuels began nearly four years ago (March 2009) when Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade group, petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to raise the limit on ethanol in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), several engine and auto manufacturers, and others urged EPA to be deliberate in its review process, ensuring thorough and adequate testing to make sure that E15 would not harm existing products or pose safety risks.

U.S. Department of Energy testing of mid-level ethanol-blended fuels on outdoor power equipment and marine engines demonstrated performance irregularities, heat increases, and engine failure. Unfortunately, the EPA moved forward to grant a partial waiver. In decisions issued on Oct. 13, 2010, EPA acknowledged that E15 blends can cause “engine failures from overheating,” as well as emission increases and “emission (durability) impacts and material compatibility issues.” Accordingly, EPA denied a broad waiver request to allow the introduction into commerce of 15-percent ethanol into non-road engines, vehicles and equipment, as well as in older-model-year motor vehicles. Based on inadequate tests, however, EPA conditionally approved the ultimate introduction into commerce of E15 fuels into newer-model-year (2007-and-later) motor vehicles.

The Engine Products Group (EPG) — which consists of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance), The Association of Global Automakers, OPEI, and the National Marine Manufacturers Association — appealed the case in August 2012. However, the DC Court of Appeals dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, citing that none of the trade associations or parties had standing in the case.

Fast forward to 2013… On March 25, the ethanol battle continued to heat up as the EPG filed a petition for certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ August 2012 decision. The petition asks the Supreme Court to accept the case for review. If the Supreme Court accepts the case, the parties will then ask that court to reverse the Court of Appeal’s ruling and find the parties have the right to challenge EPA’s partial waiver decisions that allow the sale of E15 for some passenger cars and light trucks, but not for older vehicles and not for use in motorcycles, boats and off-road engines.

EPG stated that the greatest concern of the automakers continues to be customers. In a press release, the EPG stated, “It is critical that consumers have a positive experience with renewable fuels, which are an important component of our national energy security. It is not in the longer-term interest of consumers, the government, and all parties involved to discover, after the fact, that equipment or performance problems are occurring because a new fuel was rushed into the national marketplace.”

Regarding the EPG’s appeal to the Supreme Court regarding E15, Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI, issued the following statement: “OPEI, as part of the Engine Products Group, has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the DC Circuit Court of Appeals’ claim that we did not have standing to challenge the EPA on a partial waiver for E15. This appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court reflects the seriousness of this issue for the outdoor power equipment and small-engine industry. We feel strongly that this challenge to the E15 partial waiver needs to be considered on its merits, and not held back on a procedural issue. We will push on to protect our consumers from the engine failure and product harm that comes from misfueling with E15.”

OPE Editor Steve Noe


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