U.S. EPA delays E15 decision yet again

By Holly Jessen | June 10, 2010
Posted June 21, 2010

At a time when most people were hoping the U.S. EPA would announce a decision on the E15 waiver, the agency instead delayed it until fall. It's a big disappointment to many in the industry, who have already waited through multiple delays.

The reason for the delay, the EPA said, is to allow the U.S. DOE time to complete its testing on the impact of moving from E10 to E15. According to a statement from the EPA, by the end of September the DOE plans to complete testing on vehicles built after 2007. In addition for some vehicles built before 2007, tanks and other fuel handling equipment is also being tested. "While results from the tests conducted to-date look good, EPA will not make a final decision until DOE completes its current comprehensive testing of the newer vehicles," the statement said.

Growth Energy, which filed the E15 Green Jobs Waiver with the EPA more than a year ago, sent a letter to President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, urging that steps be taken to accelerate the completion of that testing. ""As you have said yourself, Mr. President, accelerating the production of domestic ethanol would create U.S. jobs, help clean our environment, and strengthen our national security," wrote Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, in the letter. "Every day we delay the decision on the Green Jobs Waiver for E15 is another day we continue our addiction to foreign oil."

Although the waiver process requires a decision in 270 days, Buis said, the EPA said at the end of last year that the decision would be delayed until mid-2010. Growth Energy considers the current delay a promise broken. "As you would expect, we find this further delay unacceptable," he wrote. "The fact that the federal agencies involved here cannot meet their own deadlines - on a decision that means so much to our nation - reinforces a public perception that government bureaucracy does not work in the best interests of the public."

The Renewable Fuels Association called the delay "as much disappointing as it is a dereliction of duty." The RFA added that EPA plans only to approve E15 for model year 2007 and newer in September and plans to approve E15 for model year 2001 and newer later in the fall. "EPA is dropping the ball, and for no scientifically justified reason," said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. "While initial plans to approve the use of E15 for only 2001 and newer vehicles were bad, this plan borders on shameful. Confusing the market as EPA seems intent upon doing likely will lead to little if any additional ethanol being sold."

Equally concerned by the delay was the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). "It is frustrating that EPA appears to be slow-walking this E15 decision, especially as oil has been spilling from the Gulf of Mexico for 59 days and counting. What more evidence do government bureaucrats need that our nation desperately needs to take action to reduce our use of oil? Further delay is unacceptable to the American people who deserve to have greater access to a cleaner, less expensive alternative to oil."

Legislators spoke up as well. Illinois Rep. Bill Foster and Nebraska's Sen. Ben Nelson both expressed disappointment. "While the EPA sits on its hands, ethanol producers will soon hit the E10 cap or ‘blend wall,' producing more ethanol than can be used under current restrictions," Nelson said. "This is yet another delay on a decision that was supposed to have been made in December of last year."

Of course, there were those that felt differently. It pleased the American Petroleum Institute, which is conducting its own testing and had previously called for a delay. "We remain committed to finishing the extensive testing that is underway in order to find the right market solutions for renewable fuels, and we look forward to continuing our work with the EPA as it proceeds with important decisions about ethanol and biofuel blend rates," API said in a statement.