Public comments on E15 waiver request

By Kris Bevill | June 03, 2009
Comments regarding the March 6 document submittal by ethanol industry representatives requesting the U.S. EPA approve the nationwide availability of fuel blended with up to 15 percent ethanol are being accepted by the EPA through July 20. The original deadline for comments was slated for May 21, but the agency granted a request from the National Corn Growers Association to extend the period for 60 additional days to allow farmers an opportunity to comment. NCGA president Bob Dickey said the waiver issue is of great importance to the farming industry and the extra time was requested to allow farmers time to comment after completing spring plantings.

While farmers were hurriedly planting crops, representatives from both sides of the issue were busy submitting early comments to the EPA. More than 600 comments from both sides of the issue were submitted to the agency within the first 30 days of the period.

Iowa Gov. Chester Culver submitted a request on behalf of the state of Iowa in support of the waiver request. "The people of Iowa know that increasing the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the nation's fuel supply will create green jobs, environmental benefit and help eliminate our nation's dependence on foreign oil. The combination of the current economic challenges, lower oil prices and the near saturation of the 10 percent ethanol blend market are weakening the foundation of an industry that saved the nation hundreds of billions of dollars in oil imports in the past several years, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he said, adding that an increase in the blend rate is needed to achieve an advanced biofuels future.

A letter signed by 28 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the waiver request was delivered to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "Allowing the use of ethanol blends up to E15 will help us preserve and enhance infrastructure that is critical to the timely development of cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels, have significant environmental benefits, foster our nation's energy independence, create thousands of jobs and stimulate economic development in communities across the nation," the letter said.

A number of opposing viewpoints came from private citizens concerned with the well-being of legacy vehicles. Specifically, several commentators noted that their vehicle's owner's manuals prohibits the use of fuel blends greater than 10 percent. The boating community, as well, has expressed frustration over the waiver request. Concerns with outboard motor performance as well as fiberglass tank corrosion and overall boat performance compiled the majority of boating-related comments.

Historically anti-ethanol industries have expectantly rallied against the waiver request. A coalition of cattle organizations, led by the California Cattlemen's Association, urged the EPA to deny the blend rate increase request. "Keeping the allowable blend ratio to 10 percent will send a clear message to biofuel producers and the market that alternative fuels should transition to sustainable second-generation biofuels in order to promote industry growth, increase production capacity and provide a needed solution to our current food and fuel crisis," the group stated.

Don Jackson, President and CEO of Pilgrim's Pride Corp., said the EPA should deny the ethanol industry's request on the grounds that there is no scientific proof that the use of higher ethanol blends will not be harmful. "We have a fleet of more than 1,800 vehicles which could be impaired, or have their pollution control systems impaired, by higher ethanol blends," he said, adding that the company is concerned on behalf of its chicken suppliers that generators used to power their facilities could be harmed by increased ethanol blends.

The EPA will review all public comments before holding public hearings to further examine the issue. A final ruling is expected to be issued by the agency by Dec. 1.