WI congressman introduces bill to require more E15 testing

By Kris Bevill | October 17, 2011

Citing “serious concerns” with the U.S. EPA’s decision to allow E15 to be used in vehicle models 2001 and newer, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced legislation to the House of Representatives on Oct. 13 that would require an independent scientific analysis to be conducted on the implications of E15 use in vehicle, marine and small engines. The bill, H.R. 3199, states that government and industry testing suggests E15 use poses potential negative effects on the environment and vehicle performance and the EPA’s decision to allow E15 use was based on only one study, which violates the agency’s scientific integrity principles.

 “There are serious concerns that the EPA used only one [U.S.] DOE test and rushed E15’s introduction into the marketplace,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “This test was limited in scope and ignored a plethora of evidence—albeit inconvenient evidence for the EPA—that shows E15 gasoline has a negative effect on engines. I introduced this legislation to ensure a decision of this magnitude will be vetted by independent scientific research, rather than political expediency.”

Ethanol industry groups have repeatedly stated that, on the contrary, E15 has been subjected to rigorous testing and has undergone more testing than any other fuel in the marketplace. “Having been unable to dispute the overwhelming science in favor of E15, Rep. Sensenbrenner is now turning toward cheap scare tactics to turn American consumers against E15,” Growth Energy spokeswoman Stephanie Dreyer said. “We are confident that the facts of the matter will win out, and that American motorists will choose a homegrown, renewable fuel that reduces our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, keeps the price of gasoline down and cleans our environment.”

Renewable Fuels Association Chief of Staff Matt Hartwig said that, in fact, cars using E15 traveled the equivalent of 12 round trips to the moon during the government’s testing and no evidence has suggested negative effects on vehicle engines. “Rep. Sensenbrenner’s bill is yet another tactic from the delay and denigrate playbook when it comes to America’s ethanol industry and more of the anti-EPA sentiment that seems to drive a majority of legislation in the House today,” he said. “All ethanol naysayers had ample time to demonstrate their perceived failures with E15, yet have not put forward any credible evidence to support their claims. That includes the members of Congress doggedly committed to stifling America’s move toward renewable fuels and away from imported oil.”

Sensenbrenner serves as vice chairman of the House Energy & Environment subcommittee, which held a hearing on July 7 meant to evaluate the scientific findings behind E15 testing, but resulted mainly in being a platform for historically anti-ethanol groups to vent their frustrations with the industry in general.

Prior to the hearing, Sensenbrenner released responses he had received from 14 automakers after he questioned them on what effect E15 might have on vehicle engines, fuel efficiency and whether the use of E15 would void manufacturers’ warranties. “The evidence is very clear,” he stated at a July 7 House Energy & Environment subcommittee hearing. “I wrote to 14 automakers and all 14 warned that E15 will damage engines. The decision to allow E15 into the marketplace is bad policy that will cost consumers dearly.”

The EPA finalized its misfueling mitigation rule on June 27, but many stakeholders, including auto manufacturers and small engine manufacturers, believe the rule does not provide enough liability protection for them in the case of consumers’ potential misuse of the fuel.  Lawsuits have been filed against the EPA challenging every aspect of its approval of E15, the latest being a challenge to the E15 label filed in late September by a coalition of small engine, marine and vehicle manufacturers.

While the EPA did not approve E15 for use in any off-road engine, small engine groups have played a large role in the opposition to E15, expressing concerns that the fuel could be accidentally used in their products, which could have damaging effects on those engines. The American Motorcyclist Association, for example, applauded Sensenbrenner’s introduction of H.R. 3199, stating that further research is “badly needed” to ensure that ethanol blends above E10 won’t be damaging to motorcycle and all-terrain engines. Small engine groups submitted proposals to the EPA earlier this year requesting that it mandate the availability of E10, but the agency denied the requests, stating that it would be premature to mandate E10 considering that E15 has not even entered the marketplace yet.

Before retailers can begin to sell E15, a number of hurdles still need to be cleared, including issues related to vapor pressure and infrastructure regulations. It is unclear exactly how soon retailers may begin offering E15, but Growth Energy’s Dreyer said her group is optimistic it could be introduced to the marketplace by the end of this year.