New EPA E15 label won't keep higher ethanol blends from polluting our air

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency issued labeling requirements for fuel pumps dispensing E15—a blend of gasoline that contains up to 15% ethanol. This announcement follows up on EPA’s expansion earlier this year of a partial waiver allowing E15 to be used in all cars and trucks made after 2001. The new label cautions consumers not to use the fuel in vehicles older than model year 2001, motorcycles, watercraft, and other gasoline-powered equipment, and even warns that doing so is against the law.

Why are these types of warnings necessary? Because using E15 in these vehicles, which are not fitted with technologies that help them adapt to ethanol’s corrosive impacts on tailpipes, risks increasing toxic tailpipe emissions, with serious impacts on the air we breathe.

Given the magnitude of the threat to public health and the environment of E15 blends, relying on consumer labels at gas stations is a hopelessly inadequate response.

broad coalition of groups, from environmentalists to public health advocates to automakers, has long opposed this increase in blend limits, citing 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 skepticism about EPA's ability to prevent misfueling.

EPA’s response has been to focus on developing the kind of label it rolled out today. According to EPA, the label will:

“…help to further reduce the risks of potential misfueling that could result in damage to the vehicle or equipment and in associated emission increases that pose threats to human health and the environment.”

As we discussed here, such statements demonstrate that EPA knows E15 is unsafe, more polluting and corrosive for many vehicles in the marketplace, and that the agency is responsible for protecting the public from this pollution by keeping E15 blends out of these vehicles.

But the fact is, regardless of any label EPA may require on E15 pumps, some percentage of the public will certainly misfuel using E15. EPA knows this and so does the corn ethanol industry, which has been pushing hard for a liability waiver for oil companies and retailers that would protect them from ethanol-related lawsuits when drivers inevitably fill their tanks with the wrong fuel.

We need smart energy policies that speed our transition to the newer, cleaner advanced biofuels we need, not policies that lock more old, dirty corn ethanol into our fuel market. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate sent a powerful message when it voted, with overwhelming bipartisanship, to end the main corn ethanol tax credit and ethanol import tariff. Now is the time for the administration to heed this call and help move us beyond corn ethanol.

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