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By Russ Finley on Feb 23, 2012 with 10 responses

E15 Update: When Will it Receive Final Approval?

Warning Labels

Note how the brightly colored original warning label with easy to read contrasting text first proposed by the EPA on the left has, under pressure from ethanol lobbyists, evolved into a dull, greasy looking sticker replete with small print that should quickly fade even further into the background as it accumulates gas pump grime. This sticker is the backbone of the EPA’s “misfueling mitigation plan.”

Picture a harried low-income parent in a hurry to pick up a kid at daycare before it closes, who has to first gas up their older model car. Assuming this parent even notices the bland warning sticker, their thought process might go something like this; “Here’s the lowest priced gas. Up to 15% ethanol? Sounds like a good deal to me. Not sure what year this car was made …wonder what the fine print says.”

It says, “Don’t use in other vehicles, boats, or gasoline powered equipment. It may cause damage and is prohibited by federal law,” which is borderline nonsensical. What is prohibited by federal law, putting E15 in your car? Is it now her fault for wrecking her car’s fuel and/or exhaust system? The RFA does not fear a backlash from poor people who have to drive old cars. As is often the case, the poor, and that includes the growing number of hungry, are least able to protect themselves from the dealings of power brokers.

Back in October, 2010, the EPA “…waived a limitation on selling fuel that is more than 10 percent ethanol for model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. The waiver applies to fuel that contains up to 15 percent ethanol – known as E15 – and only to model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks.”

15% Ethanol Has Not Yet Been Approved For Sale

At the time and until just recently, I was under the mistaken impression that this was a done deal. Turns out this was just the first “…of a number of actions that are needed from federal, state and industry towards commercialization of E15 gasoline blends.”

This link provides a history of EPA actions from inception to the present with the latest update just a few days ago. As of today, E15 is still not approved for sale.

However, according to Growth Energy and the RFA, the two main corn ethanol lobbying organizations who have apparently joined forces:

With EPA’s acceptance of the results of the testing submitted by the ethanol groups, suppliers of ethanol and E15 are now able to register with EPA to offer the fuel.  This is not the green light for E15 sales yet, but the health effects testing is a significant milestone to have passed.

The acceptance of the health effects testing clears the way for the final steps in registering E15 as a fuel and offering it in the marketplace.  One step is to have ethanol and fuel companies register with EPA. 

The other step is the formulation of a misfueling mitigation plan.

As far as I can infer, the only thing now standing in their way is Bill H.R. 3199, which was introduced a year after the aforementioned EPA waiver calling for the EPA to  ”enter into an agreement with the National Academies to provide a comprehensive assessment of research on the implications of the use of mid-level ethanol blends.”

The issue has been a political hot potato with farm belt politicians and corn ethanol lobbyists in favor of the waiver, and pretty much everyone else against it, including polar opposites, Friends of the Earth and the Competitive Enterprise Institute:

Today 31 organizations expressed their support for Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s legislation, H.R. 3199, which requires the EPA to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of E15 on vehicles and engines. Tomorrow the House Science Committee will mark up H.R. 3199.

How many gas station owners will sell E15 and risk law suits from consumers for damage (real and perceived)? Do they think consumers, given a choice, will clamor for E15 when they are not clamoring for E85? In short, this will do little to alleviate the blend wall problem.

Mandate Next?

I suspect the ethanol lobbyists see this as a potential stepping stone to eventually mandating a 15 percent blend in all gasoline sold. But here’s a study from last year which suggests that an increase to 15 percent “…would only buy some four years before the industry is back to bumping against the blend wall.”

Flex fuel cars burning 85% ethanol from E85 gas pumps were supposed to be soaking up government forced consumption beyond what could safely be blended into our gas supply. The blend wall problem exists solely because that is not happening. The answer isn’t to convince congress to force more ethanol onto consumers. The answer is to get the public to embrace flex fuel cars and then, somehow, get them to burn E85 in them. Easier said than done.

  1. By Robert Rapier on February 23, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I suspect the ethanol lobbyists see this as a potential stepping stone to eventually mandating a 15 percent blend in all gasoline sold. 

    Yes, I have said this before too. I think that is the goal.

    But here’s a study from last year which suggests that an increase to 15 percent “…would only buy some four years before the industry is back to bumping against the blend wall.”

    I see you are not familiar with our friend E20. :)

    • By Russ Finley on February 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm

      RR said:

      “I see you are not familiar with our friend E20″

      Meaning, they will lobby for E20 next?

  2. By Robert Rapier on February 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Meaning, they will lobby for E20 next?

    Don’t you think they will? If the market saturated for E15, I think the most likely step is for them to start pushing for E20.

  3. By Oxymaven on February 24, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Of course E15 is just a mile marker on the way to higher blends.  See Bob Dinneen’s RFA speech this week, and comments by gasoline retailers regarding how ethanol mandates interact with CAFE requirements reducing gasoline consumption over the next 10 years.  The retailers show that if 36 bil gal of ethanol are produced in 2022, that would mean ~E37 required, assuming only ethanol is available.  
    Also, RFA’s new 2012 Industry Outlook has their usual list of ethanol benefits, including their ridiculous claim about how 13.9 bil gal of ethanol (331 mil bbls) displace 485 million bbls of imported crude.  That has been debunked regularly in the past by RR and GSI, but should be highlighted again, and put into context, especially given this year’s discussion on refined product imports / exports, current rise in gas prices, Obama’s energy policies, etc. etc. etc. 

  4. By mac on February 24, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    The ethanol people seem to want everybody to buy ethanol.  I wonder why?

    I guess it’s the same reason that the oil companies want everybody to buy oil.

  5. By mac on February 24, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Ooops, wait a minute !!,   Sorry, I forgot ethanol is subsidized, 

    Ooops, wait a minute !!,   Sorry,  I forgot oil is also subsidized.

    • By Bryan on March 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      Ethanol is no longer subsidized just oil is

      • By Russ Finley on March 24, 2012 at 12:37 am

        That depends somewhat on your definition of a subsidy. What do you call it when your government forces a product down its citizen’s throats regardless of cost? Remove that forced consumption and corn ethanol would disappear. I think the government should force every citizen to buy one RR’s books, to create jobs and prevent the importation of books from foreign cultures ; )

        Oil should not be subsidized, but when you look at the subsidies it receives per unit energy produced it is trivial and certainly much less or no worse than most other energy sources. If you can find a way to remove oil subsidies, great, but don’t expect to see the price change appreciably.

  6. By Pontisteve on February 28, 2012 at 12:54 am

    As an EFI calibrator, I see this increase as a disaster. In fact, ever since Ethanol has been blended into gasoline, it’s caused nothing but problems. It damages carburetors, fuel lines, fuel tanks, fuel pumps, and even some fuel injection pieces. The marine and small engines have been hit the hardest. Only cars, because of fuel injection, have been somewhat tolerant.
    Aside from it’s corrosive damage, people should know that there is a reduced amount of energy in ethanol. This is directly indicated by the stoichiometric ratio of a given fuel. Straight gas is 14.68:1. E10 is 14.08:1. E15 is 13.83:1. This is a direct corrolation to fuel mileage. Each 10% of ethanol added gives up 4% in fuel mileage and energy. So E15 gives up 6%. Figure it out… we will lose 6% mileage so we can save 15% on buying foreign oil? We are now exporting oil. North Dakota is pumping more than the UAE.
    Ethanol is total garbage. It is destroying our equipment, killing our mileage, has unintended negative consequences on the environment, and we’re subsidizing it! It’s a strange combination of the “green” movement on the left, the Ethanol industry, uninformed or corrupt politicians, an environmentally conscious consumer (even though he doesn’t realize he’s being played), and pressured automotive giants. We’re getting screwed folks. Check out what Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is trying to expose. His inquiries to all the car manufacturers should be a serious red alert to consumers that we’re getting hosed.

  7. By Russ Finley on February 28, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    “It’s a strange combination of the “green” movement on the left, the Ethanol industry, uninformed or corrupt politicians, an environmentally conscious consumer (even though he doesn’t realize he’s being played), and pressured automotive giants.”

    I’d say your comment is pretty accurate except that bit about the green movement. No major environmental group supports corn ethanol. The main support outside of those you mention above are people who lean to the right who think ethanol is sticking it to the Middle East, which I suspect is rooted in xenophobia.

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