House committee members, industry slam effort to delay E15

By Kris Bevill | February 07, 2012

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology met Feb. 7 to markup H.R. 3199, a bill introduced last fall by committee Vice Chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., that would require the National Academy of Sciences to conduct further testing on the effects of E15 on vehicles and other engines before allowing it to enter into the marketplace.

The committee debated the merits of the bill and a pair of amendments for about 45 minutes before passing the bill by a vote of 19-7. If passed into law, Sensenbrenner’s bill would delay the implementation of E15 by at least 18 months while the NAS conducts its testing. The bill allows for up to $900,000 of the U.S. EPA’s research and development funds to be used to finance the testing.

The EPA approved the use of E15 in vehicle models 2001 and newer in early 2011 under the authority granted to it under the Clean Air Act. Prior to issuing its approval, the agency conducted nearly two years of fuel tests through the U.S. DOE. Sensenbrenner and supporters of his bill assert that even more testing of E15 is necessary in order to protect consumers and the environment from potential harmful effects of the midlevel blend. Opponents, however, claim that Sensenbrenner’s proposal is little more than an effort to disrupt the EPA’s regulatory abilities and expressed confidence that the bill will not be passed into law.

In her opening comments, ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, called Sensenbrenner’s bill “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and said H.R. 3199 is an effort to obstruct the EPA from finishing its activities, which currently include registering E15 to allow its entry into the marketplace. “We have to develop all the energy resources we have if we want to have a secure energy future,” Johnson said. “I think this bill is less about ethanol and more about attacking EPA. This bill has no chance of going anywhere in the Senate. It has no chance of being signed by the president. So all we are doing today is engaging in political theater at the expense of the EPA and at the expense of our clean energy future. Such political theater is not the best use of this committee’s time and I hope that this will be the last such bill that we consider.”

Other committee members expressed similar concerns with the bill’s impact on the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act and said they could not support Sensenbrenner’s proposal for that reason. “Those of us in California and around the country do have concerns about corn-based ethanol,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said. “It’s a complex and important issue…but we should not stop the EPA from conducting its required activities under the Clean Air Act. To do so would weaken and undermine our environmental laws and procedures.”

Sensenbrenner pointed to the concerns regarding E15 which were offered to him by multiple automakers and small engine groups last year as proof that the fuel poses a threat and should be further tested. A coalition of 31 groups, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (formerly the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association), the American Petroleum Institute, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and others, also submitted a letter to committee leaders, urging them to support H.R. 3199. “While our organizations have divergent priorities, consumer protection is a common high priority and we are united in opposition to the premature introduction of E15,” the groups said in the letter. “Simply stated, this bill will halt EPA’s rush to introduce mid-level ethanol blends and ensure such fuel blends receive the proper scientific analysis before being put into the marketplace.”

Ethanol industry groups expressed nearly the exact opposite sentiment, stating that the extensive testing already conducted on E15 provides ample scientific basis for the EPA’s decision to approve the fuel for use. “This is a waste of time and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said. “No fuel blend has been tested as thoroughly as E15. No fuel blend has undergone the level of scrutiny E15 has - and passed the tests like E15 did. Now Rep. Sensenbrenner wants to move the goal posts again – a move that would only add more red tape and regulation. This would do nothing to help the American consumer, but only continues our reliance on the OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] monopoly.”

Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, released a statement also noting the extensive testing already conducted on E15 and said Sensenbrenner’s bill will create unnecessary over-regulation for E15 and other ethanol-blended fuels. Regarding misfueling concerns, Jennings said, “Once it hits the market, E15 will be clearly labeled for its intended use for consumers to prevent misfueling in small and non-road engines.”

Sensenbrenner also takes issue with the misfueling mitigation measures taken by the EPA and, during a more interesting moment of the markup session, expressed those concerns by likening E15 to a can of worms. “If one would believe that merely putting a sticker on the pump saying ‘this pump is E15’ is going to get everybody who fills up with gas to look at it, I think they’re mistaken,” he said. “This is a can of worms and the worms will continue getting out of the can and going into our fuel supply … We ought to keep the worms in the can. We ought to see what the science on this is.”