The enduring fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard continues with the Supreme Court's decision yesterday not to hear a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 approval of fuel containing up to 15% ethanol. The 15% blend, E15, is only sold in less than two dozen Midwest gas stations, with most stations using a 10% blend, or E10. But the Obama administration is considering a requirement that would mandate more ethanol in gasoline.
The Renewable Fuel Standard was approved by Congress in 2005 and then amended in 2007. It requires refiners to blend more ethanol into gasoline every year with the intention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering dependence on fossil fuels.
The American Petroleum Institute remains steadfastly against the sale of E15. Most fuel has 10% ethanol, and the EPA has only approved the 15% mix for 2001 and later car models.
The oil industry argues that E15 has not been proved safe, there are high "misfueling" risks that could cause filling station owners to face liability when the fuel is inadvertently pumped into older cars and there is a limited market for the mix, especially since some automakers have warned drivers that using the fuel will void their warranty.
However, the ethanol industry argues that there have been no recorded cases of engine breakdowns or failure since the sales of E15 began last year. Supporters in Congress claim that the law has created over 400,000 jobs, rejuvenated the rural economy, and reduced foreign oil imports. They also cite the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, a selling point for those committed to battling global warming.
“This is another example of oil companies unnecessarily scaring people, and it's just flat-out wrong," commented Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry group.
The agriculture industry will continue to stand by E15, which requires massive amounts of corn to soak the fuel supply each year, and therefore means big profits for big ag from the continued increase of ethanol blends. But ethanol doesn't necessarily help the environmentalist cause, as its supporters may claim. Gasohol, as opposed to gasoline, produces emissions with more hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide.
The higher blend also poses a danger to older cars, whose warranties will not cover damage caused by E15. And despite the EPA’s insistence that it is safe for most cars made after 2001, this isn’t necessarily the case. Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a staunch opponent of higher ethanol blends, said that his 2011 Ford truck has a written warning that its warranty would be voided if he used E15. Lankford challenged the EPA’s claim that E15 is safe for post-2001 cars, asking Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s office of transportation and air quality, “How many manufacturers disagree with you?” Grundler replied, “Most of them.”
Despite the serious pitfalls of E15, it doesn’t look like the amount of ethanol in gasoline blends is going to be decreasing anytime soon. While this would bode well for the agriculture industry, for the rest of us, E15 only means more danger and inefficiency.