|E15 Partial Waiver Decision Allowing Will Create Widespread Confusion|
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In March 2009, a newly-formed, pro-ethanol lobbying organization called Growth Energy launched a major PR and lobbying campaign to promote their product in Washington, D.C. This organization went so far as to hire former NATO Commander General Wesley Clark to be its front man and chief spokesman. Millions of dollars have since been spent on cable networks and in Washington, D.C., on the effort to promote mid-level ethanol blends, such as E15, fuel that contains 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline.
Around the same time as the campaign began, Growth Energy ﬁled a petition with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting a waiver to allow the sale of gasoline that includes up to 15% ethanol. Since the late 1970s, the amount of ethanol in gasoline was legally capped at 10%, with the exception of E85, which is solely for use in specially-manufactured, ﬂexible fuel vehicles. In mid-October, the EPA ﬁnally ruled on the Growth Energy petition, and the decision is not good for boaters or millions of other U.S. consumers.
The onset of the recession, a reduction in the cost of gasoline, and general consumer rejection of E85 left the ethanol industry struggling to compete economically. As venture capitalists who put up money to build ethanol plants suffered greatly in the ﬁnancial collapse and as major ethanol companies started declaring bankruptcy, Growth Energy ramped up its efforts to have the government bail out the industry, which already beneﬁts from an enormous tax subsidy, a tariff trade barrier against imports, and a slew of taxpayer-funded loans, grants, and government programs.
In part because of a legal change that the NMMA and other engine manufacturers sought and obtained in 2007, the EPA was required to study and determine whether or not E15 would pose a threat to air quality or damage cars, boats and other types of gasoline-powered equipment. Once Growth Energy submitted its petition requesting approval for E15, the EPA had 270 days to make a decision on Growth Energy’s request.
Because of their negative experiences with E10 blends, boaters got involved directly in the process, sending more than 30,000 individual public comments to EPA ofﬁcials urging them to deny the ethanol lobby’s request that E15 be made available for sale as a general-purpose fuel.
Boaters know the truth about ethanol due to long experience: E15 is an inferior fuel that is less fuel-efﬁcient than gasoline with a smaller amount of ethanol, that is not compatible with marine engine design or components, and that will likely lead to performance problems. Marine engines are warranted only up to E10, and both manufacturers and boating consumers know that E15 will exacerbate the well-documented problems associated with E10.
At every step of the way, the NMMA and its allies have urged the EPA, Congress, and the White House to follow the science and comply with the law in testing both on-road and non-road engines, including marine engines. The ethanol industry wants to pump ﬁrst and ask questions later, and it is obvious why: They know that they are on the wrong side of the data.
On Oct. 13, the EPA granted a so-called “partial waiver” and approved E15 for use only in cars and light-duty trucks manufactured in 2007 and later. E15 remains prohibited for marine engines and other non-road engines such as snowmobiles, lawn and garden equipment, and generators.
The waiver also excludes motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles and older cars, although, in November or December of 2010, the EPA may approve E15 for cars and light-duty trucks made in 2001 and later. In addition, gasoline retailers will not be able to sell E15 until the EPA completes new regulations, including one labeling pumps that are selling E15. This new labeling requirement was announced in conjunction with the EPA’s decision to allow the sale and use of E15 in 2007 and newer, on-highway motor vehicles.
Although the EPA was correct in recognizing that E15 is not compatible with marine engines, the agency’s decision to partially allow this fuel into the market sets the table for widespread consumer confusion and misfueling. Gasoline consumers rightfully believe that the fuel they buy at the gas station is safe, but that will no longer be a given. If this scenario plays out, boaters will need to be extra-vigilant at the pump and avoid gasoline containing E15.