API, food, farm groups challenge E15 waiver

By Holly Jessen | October 14, 2010
Posted Nov. 10, 2010

The American Petroleum Institute on Nov. 9 joined a coalition of nine farm and food groups in challenging the U.S. EPA's recent E15 decision. The groups filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, seeking to overturn the partial waiver authorizing E15 use in 2007 and newer model year cars and light duty trucks.

API alleges that the partial waiver improperly authorizes E15 for use in 2007 and newer vehicles. "The EPA's partial waiver is premature, lacks statutory authority and puts consumers at risk, said Bob Greco, API's director of downstream operations. "Ongoing testing by our industry, auto makers and the [U.S.] DOE to determine whether E15 is safe has not been completed. Results so far have revealed potential safety and performance problems that could affect consumers and the investments they've made in their automobiles."

The oil and natural gas industries are the biggest consumers of biofuels and are committed to using renewable fuels, Greco added. The groups support a "realistic and workable" renewable fuel standard. "However, rushing to allow more ethanol before we know it is safe could be disastrous for consumers and could jeopardize the future of renewable fuels," he said.

The nine farm and food groups claim the EPA is not within its legal authority in granting the partial waiver. Under the Clean Air Act a waiver can only be granted if it "will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system."

The subject of food prices also came up. American Meat Institute President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle referenced increased corn prices following the USDA's revised corn production estimates. "This will put pressure on the meat and poultry supply, which will lead to higher food prices for consumers," he said. "For those consumers worried about climbing food prices, this decision will increase the amount of corn being diverted to our gas tanks and away from meat and poultry production. It's unfortunate that EPA acted hastily and approved the use of E15, and now the American consumer will pay for it at the grocery store."

It's necessary to challenge the EPA's E15 decision to reduce the strain on U.S. agriculture caused by corn-to-ethanol production, said Scott Vinson, president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants. "Corn is an extremely important commodity used in feeding the world and it's about time we reverse the trend of burning more and more of it as fuel," he said.

Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, said the EPA disregarded legitimate scientific concerns about E15 and "potentially disastrous" impact of using more corn to produce ethanol. "We believe the agency ignored the law as well, and we are confident the court will agree," he said.

In addition to those groups, the coalition includes the Grocery Manufacturers Association, National Meat Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, Snack Food Association and American Frozen Food Institute.

The ethanol industry strongly disagrees with all these claims, however. The Renewable Fuels Association has repeatedly expressed concerns that a partial waiver doesn't go far enough and approving E15 for only newer vehicles will cause market confusion. E15 is safe and effective for all light-duty vehicles, said President Bob Dinneen.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis previously called the E15 decision historic. However, he also pointed to extensive testing that shows there is no reason to limit E15 to only 2007 and newer vehicles. The organization has urged the EPA to quickly approve E15 for vehicles model year 2001-'06 and begin testing on legacy vehicles.

Following the lawsuit announcement, Growth Energy released a statement saying it would fully evaluate the lawsuit but that expanding renewable fuel use should be based on science. "In 2008, these big food companies gouged consumers while trying to shift the blame to America's ethanol producers and farmers, so we're not surprised by their actions today," Buis said. "Having been unable to dispute the overwhelming science in favor of E15, they are now turning to the legal process to slow progress on renewable fuels."