EPA continues to move down risky E15 path

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.

About the Authors

Nathanael Greene

Director, Renewable Energy Policy, Energy & Transportation program

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