Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Robert Rapier on Dec 8, 2009 with no responses

How to Break Through the Blend Wall

By now you have probably heard that the EPA has postponed issuing guidelines on whether to allow ethanol blends of higher than 10% into the gasoline pool. Going up to 15% ethanol blends would allow ethanol producers to put a lot more of their product into the market, which is currently bumping up against the limits of the current 10% ethanol blend allowance.

Ethanol producers and proponents have assured us that the higher blends will not damage engines. Small engine makers and boaters are very worried that the higher blends will damage their engines. In fact oil companies, having been mandated to use ethanol, are now facing a class action lawsuit over ethanol blends damaging boat motors. Even the auto industry has voiced concerns that they could be liable if the higher ethanol blends damage engines.

So how to break this impasse? A reader forwarded a link to a letter that appeared in the Financial Times that I think proposes a reasonable solution. The ethanol industry will be the main beneficiary of raising the amount of ethanol that can be blended. Since they are also the industry who has requested this increase, have them assume the liability if anything does happen. If they are correct and there are no problems, then they have nothing to worry about. If they are incorrect, then they can pay for the fallout instead of having it fall to the oil companies, car companies, and small engine makers.

How to do this? I think you have to get an ethanol trade organization like the Renewable Fuels Association to step forward and say “We are prepared to accept the liability risk for the potential reward.” Because the potential liability could be enormous, that would probably also need to be backed up by the U.S. government.

I think it is a reasonable suggestion that those who are proposing this change and who stand to benefit should accept any potential liability. But my guess is that the EPA will ultimately rule in favor of increasing the ethanol blends anyway, and the ones who reap the reward aren’t going to be the ones stuck with the bills if there are unforeseen problems.