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Taking on the EPA and E15 Testing

Mark Green's picture
American Petroleum Institute

Mark Green joined API after 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper, capping a 30-year career in print journalism. At API he is responsible for...

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  • May 22, 2013 12:00 am GMT
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E15 fuelTime to set the record straight on EPA’s premature approval of E15 fuel for the marketplace – necessitated by EPA administrator nominee Gina McCarthy’s recent inaccurate and misleading responses to Senate questions about E15 testing. McCarthy was asked:

“Was EPA aware of ongoing (Coordinating Research Council) testing on engine durability, fuel pumps and other engine components? Why not wait until that test was complete before making a decision? Because in the aftermath it looks like the decision was, at best, premature. The CRC data shows millions of approved vehicles are in danger of engine damage.”

Let’s take on the faulty claims in McCarthy’s written responses in turn:

EPA or the Energy Department was “expressly denied” a role in CRC’s E15 testing program: False

  • EPA, DOE and the U.S. national laboratories were key players before and during CRC’s E15 research, with more than 10 different staff members from these entities participating in more than eight meetings between 2008 and 2010. These meetings concerned potential gaps in CRC’s research, its test plans and procedures. The government representatives provided valuable input and had ample opportunity to offer criticism as well.
  • Staff members from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) actively participated in CRC groups doing mid-level ethanol blends research and helped write final reports. NREL even hosted one of the meetings.

CRC’s testing had scientific shortcomings: False

  • Although McCarthy’s response hit CRC for not testing components or vehicles on E0 and E10 fuels, CRC’s baseline testing is, in fact, consistent with EPA’s. Note: The agency granted its second waiver on E15 with no E10 testing, and in its first E15 waiver decision it said that E0 was the reference fuel.
  • For 70 years CRC has represented the gold standard for research on fuels, engines and vehicles. CRC tests are developed and managed by the same company automotive engineers who design and build cars. 

Complete information on CRC’s testing program was not made available to government: False

  • Again, staff from EPA, DOE and the U.S. national laboratories were involved before and during CRC’s E15 research (see above) – underscored by the fact DOE reviewed and made comments on CRC’s program.
  • See emails from CRC to DOE and EPA staff, informing them of the availability of CRC research reports as they became available, by clicking here (attachments).

Our industry has great confidence in the ability of the automotive and fuels experts who sit on CRC research and testing committees. They conduct well-conceived and thorough technical investigations of consumer acceptance and vehicle safety-related issues associated with the use of mid-level ethanol blends in vehicles operated by our mutual customers. In fact, both DOE and EPA have funded research through CRC in the past (see Page 1).

Bottom line: EPA approved E15 for the marketplace knowing full well that automotive and fuels experts were still studying its impacts. Rather than acknowledge that approval of E15 for use in 2001 and newer vehicles was premature, before all necessary research was done, both EPA and DOE instead attack the research and the researchers.

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John Miller's picture
John Miller on May 21, 2013

Mark, as you are aware, the issue or problem of increasing ethanol blending from E-10 to E-15 goes back to the original Federal regulation (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007; EISA 2007), which created the current Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2).  When Congress passed EISA 2007 their purpose was to ‘replace’ petroleum (imports) with domestic, alternatives to petroleum; biofuels.  The best Federal projection of gasoline consumption at the time was the DOE/EIA AEO 2007 that projected total U.S. gasoline consumption would increase by 4% 2007-2012.  Congress also was led to believe that E-85 ‘flex-fuel vehicles’ (FFV) fuel consumption would also increase very significantly.  Unfortunately, the 2007-2009 economic recession and slow recovery caused total actual gasoline consumption to decline by 6% 2007-2012.  In addition, the many owners of FFV’s rarely operate their vehicles on E-85 due to a combination of significantly lower fuel efficiency and perhaps limited (fueling station) availability.  The combination of these factors contributed to the ‘ethanol blending wall’, which has apparently become the primary incentive for the EPA aggressively pushing forward with the E-15 standard.

It’s disappointing and increasingly concerning that the EPA is apparently ignoring or attacking the critical analysis needed to ensure increasing (corrosive) ethanol blending from 10 to 15% does not created significant safety hazards (fuel leakage/fires) for older vehicle/equipment owners.  The EPA’s only solution to date is to require warning labels; and shift the potential safety hazard responsibility to U.S. consumers?

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