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EPA continues to move down risky E15 path

Nathanael Greene

Posted January 21, 2011 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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As a follow up to the partial waiver announced last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will allow E15 gasoline—that is, gasoline blended with up to 15% ethanol—to be used in all cars and trucks made after 2001. This is still a partial waiver and does nothing to allay serious environmental and public health concerns about toxic air pollution emitted from the tailpipes of vehicles that run on gasoline blended with ethanol, especially at higher blend levels like E15, and continued doubts about EPA’s ability to prevent misfueling at the pump.

As we discussed here, EPA’s own documents clearly show that the agency knows E15 causes dangerous air pollution, including harmful ozone impacts, particularly when used in older cars. Ethanol burns hotter than gasoline causing tailpipe controls to break down faster. Older cars aren’t fitted with oxygen sensors that allow them to adjust combustion and protect their tailpipes so fueling older cars with higher ethanol blends not only risks increasing vehicle air pollution but can also cause serious damage to vehicle engines, potentially voiding warranties.

Today’s announcement does not reverse EPA’s denial last fall of a request to allow the use of E15 for cars made before 2000 and the agency said today that no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines because current testing data does not support such a waiver. With millions of American drivers filling up their gas tanks each day, the risk of widespread misfueling at the pump remains. It’s therefore not surprising that as we discussed here and this Wall Street Journal article points out, a broad coalition of not only environmentalists and public health advocates, but also auto manufacturers continues to oppose the expanded use of E15 gasoline.

The critical question today is exactly what it was back in October: what is EPA’s plan for protecting public health by preventing E15 use in older vehicles and how likely is it that this plan will actually work? Because EPA has yet to finalize rules for how E15 should be labeled at gas stations to prevent drivers from putting it into vehicles for which it is not approved, there’s no way to tell.

With the auto companies, the engine manufacturers and now the oil companies all suing EPA over E15, the agency isn’t just going to be face public scrutiny, it's going to have to make its case in a court of law. The bottom line is that the onus is on EPA to demonstrate that they have a credible way to ensure that misfueling will not occur and that the air we breathe and engines we rely on are not threatened by more corn ethanol.

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Comments

Patrick ReidJan 23 2011 12:27 AM

Ethanol burns COOLER than gasoline (up to 300 degrees F cooler). Why does the NRDC continue to put out propaganda that would make the API (American Petroleum Institute) proud...maybe it is because the NRDC gets a good kick back from the oil industry & others? The Nation magazine did a great undercover article about 6 months back showing how some of these environmental groups are "in bed" with the corporate polluters they are suppose to be keeping an eye on.

Ethanol is extremely clean burning, renewable & domestically produced. Stop bashing this terrific fuel and go after the real culprits that are poisoning the air & water...the oil industry & the garbage they sell as gasoline! How many gulf oil spills, Canadian tar sand environmental disasters, mega-wars for oil, etc does the NRDC have to see before it decides to stop spreading propaganda about alcohol fuel?

Kendall LinzeeJan 30 2011 10:47 PM

I'll borrow my favorite Maddow phrase ''BULL PUCKY". The EPA won't have much trouble winning this one. These claims are based on some misinformation, that I can only imagine stem from a political posturing agenda, for what who knows besides the obvious. Looks like NRDC isn't going to tell us. Laziness? This is where we see the left coming thru for us with a useful EPA. Instead of gutting the agency and putting a non-believer in charge. I don't know where the 300 degrees cooler came from, but O2 sensors have been around for quite some time. You will have a pretty hard time finding a vehicle that doesn't have one or two before the catalytic converter on todays streets. The claims are just not true. The temperature of E-15 combustion is not significantly hotter or colder to add up to a hill of Acetylaldehide beans. The volatility of ethanol is of more significance, It requires less air to become a combustible vapor. Mixes faster. Also evaporates faster. Not necessarily a big problem. If octane levels are not greatly increased with E-15, the lower compression ratios of older engine designs shouldn't be a big deal. You can run a carbureted engine with no 02 sensor, on E-85, cleaner than a lot of vehicles with a computer on petroleum. There's a lot of variables and no end of Automotive choices, with parts made by Americans. A lot of us car people have all ready done this research. O2 sensors were a high priority sensor since the early 80's. And Ford's first flex-fuel engine has a compression ratio about 8.5 to 1. That's one reason they don't get the best mileage on E-85.
Thanks for letting us know who's suing who.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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