Small engine groups petition EPA to mandate E10 availability

By Kris Bevill | March 23, 2011

A coalition of small engine groups representing boaters, motorcyclists, snowmobilers and outdoor power equipment manufacturers, petitioned the U.S. EPA on March 23 seeking a mandate to ensure the continued availability of E10 at retail stations. The groups are concerned that once E15 is allowed to enter the marketplace retailers, will choose to sell that blend instead of E10, leaving consumers no option but to misfuel their small engines with E15.

Representatives from the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute said the petition is not an attempt to prevent E15 from entering the marketplace. “This is an attempt to make sure E15 doesn’t enter our boats,” Cindy Squires, director of regulatory affairs for the NMMA, said. Most boating occurs in rural areas where towns often have just a few retail gas stations, she said. If one station switches to E15 and can sell it a lower price than E10, other stations will follow suit and increase their blends to E15, leaving no approved fueling option for small engines. “I can tell you that with nearly all legacy boat products today, if you were to use E15 it would cause you severe problems and void your warranty,” Squires said. “If E15 is going to enter the marketplace, we need to make sure E10 remains there as well. There’s just no possible way to prevent a customer from misfueling their vessel with E15 if E10 isn’t at the pump.”

The Renewable Fuels Association contends that if consumers demand E10, retailers will continue to provide them with that fuel, but Kris Kiser, executive vice president of OPEI, disagrees and said cost will dictate the availability of fuel, sometimes at a detriment to vehicle warranties. “Consumers will want what’s cheaper and retailers will sell what they can make the most money on,” he said. “People base their fuel purchasing decision on price. Whatever goes in the car goes in the can.”

The threat of class-action lawsuits or massive equipment recalls in response to consumers misusing E15 in un-approved off-road vehicles is huge, Kiser said. But, he stressed that the petition filing is not anti-ethanol. Rather, it’s an attempt to force the EPA to address the misfueling issue. “That’s the beef. If EPA is going to put E15 out there, make sure that you have E10 out there, too. At least for awhile, until these products end up out of the marketplace or manufacturers begin designing for E15.”

Growth Energy led the ethanol industry’s call for an increase to E15 and filed the initial waiver request two years ago. CEO Tom Buis recommended that the groups petitioning for an E10 mandate should focus their efforts instead on supporting the expansion of blender pumps at retail stations nationwide. “Flex-fuel pumps give consumers the option to choose multiple blends of fuel from E10 to E85, and certainly addresses the concerns about the availability for off-road vehicles, snow blowers or any vehicles that are not approved for use of E15,” he said. “This petition would erect new, artificial barriers to the fuels market that would limit choice at the pump and cost retailers money at a time when many are still struggling to make ends meet.”

It is not yet clear what course of the action the EPA will take in response to the E10 mandate petition. The agency could roll the new request into its final E15 misfueling control rule, which is currently under development and is scheduled to be released by the summer, according to comments recently made by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The other option available is for the EPA to initiate a new rulemaking, which would then require a comment period and a much longer review process.