Mixed reactions to EPA's E15 health effects approval

By Kris Bevill | February 20, 2012

The ethanol industry checked off another item on its laborious list of requirements to introduce E15 to the market on Feb. 17 with the U.S. EPA’s approval of health effects and emissions testing on E15. The agency issued its approval after reviewing emissions testing performed by the Southwest Research Institute and an analysis submitted by industry groups Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association that showed previously approved health effects testing results for E10 are comparable to E15.

The Clean Air Act requires testing to be completed and approved by the EPA before any new fuel can be registered and sold into the marketplace. Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association are making their E15 health effects testing results available free of charge to any fuel or fuel additive manufacturer that wishes to register E15 for sale, which will lessen the burden for those seeking to complete the individual registration process. However, the EPA stressed in a document released Feb. 17 that the RFA/Growth Energy documents do not constitute a complete application. Individual applicants must also submit specified information about its company in the registration application and may not begin selling E15 until the EPA approves the application, a process which usually takes two to four weeks. Additionally, the applicant must prove it can meet the agency’s misfueling mitigation conditions and overcome various other requirements, some of which include infrastructure compatibility and state fuel specifications. Still, the ethanol industry heralded the EPA’s testing approval as bringing E15 availability one big step closer to fruition and many expressed confidence that the fuel will soon be sold to consumers.

“Most fuel retailers can store and pump it through existing tanks and lines, and while some local regulations may still have to be changed to accommodate E15, pumps and dispensers have to pass tests using 15 percent ethanol to gain UL [Underwriters Laboratories] approval,” Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalitions for Ethanol, said. “The major manufacturers warranty many of their pumps up to 15 percent ethanol. This is about consumer choice. No stations have to sell E15, and drivers don’t have to buy it - but we are confident they will.”

“EPA’s action today puts E15 on the precipice of commercialization and means that consumers may be able to choose a more affordable E15 option in time for the expensive summer driving season,” RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen said. “This is a huge step toward meaningful market expansion for domestically produced ethanol.”

The RFA said it has already submitted a misfueling mitigation plan to the EPA that could serve as a model for fuel retailers to follow in order to show compliance with EPA regulations. The EPA has approved E15 for use only in vehicle model years 2001 and newer and requires that pumps dispensing E15 be labeled with approved signage to inform their consumers of this restriction. But groups such as the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (formerly the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association) and the Environmental Working Group continue to take issue with the EPA’s E15 labeling requirements and have launched a new round of scare tactics in an effort to skew the consumer’s view of the fuel.

“EPA’s solution of simply sticking a small label on retail fuel pumps does not solve the problem and will do little to protect consumers from misfueling with gasoline containing greater than 10 percent ethanol,” Charles Drevna, AFPM president, said in a statement.

“It is going to be extremely confusing and dangerous for consumers,” Shiela Karpf, legislative analyst at the Environmental Working Group, said in a news release. “If they make a mistake and put E15 into an older car or small engine, there’s a good chance they’ll ruin their engine and the manufacturer’s warranty won’t cover the damage.”

The EWG is circulating an “Ethanol Blends Guide and Fact Sheet” which warns readers to “beware of higher ethanol gas” and states that while the EPA has approved E15 for use in 2001 and newer vehicles, carmakers do not agree. Therefore, the EWG is recommending to its followers that they continue using E10 or regular unleaded gasoline once E15 becomes available.