EPA delays E15 fuel waiver rule

By Erin Voegele | January 04, 2010
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On Dec. 1, the U.S. EPA announced it would delay its decision on the E15 fuel waiver until mid-2010. The fuel waiver request was submitted by Growth Energy in March 2009. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was required to respond to the waiver by Dec. 1.

In a letter addressed to leaders of Growth Energy, the EPA said more time was needed to complete vehicle testing. "As we are evaluating your E15 waiver petition, we want to make sure we have all necessary science to make the right decision," said the EPA in the letter. "Although all of the studies have not been completed, our engineering assessment to date indicates that the robust fuel, engine and emissions control systems of newer vehicles (likely 2001 and newer model years) will likely be able to accommodate higher ethanol blends, such as E15."

According to the letter, the U.S. DOE is currently studying E15's effect on component durability. As part of the study, the department will examine the impacts of higher ethanol blends on 19 vehicles. Testing is expected to be complete by August. The EPA expects testing to be complete on 14 of those vehicles by May.

"Should the tests remain supportive and provide the necessary basis, we would be in a position to approve E15 for 2001 and newer vehicles in the mid-year timeframe," said the EPA in its letter. "Of course, if the data highlight potential problems, then the decision may need to be delayed until all testing is received and reviewed."

In addition, the EPA said it has begun crafting the labeling requirements that will be necessary if the blending limit is raised.

Growth Energy described the EPA's announcement as a strong signal that the agency is preparing to approve E15. "We are confident the ongoing tests will further confirm the data we submitted in the Growth Energy Green Jobs Waiver and silence those critics, allowing for more American-produced energy to enter the market," Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said.

The American Coalition for Ethanol also expressed confidence that E15 will be approved. "While we would have strongly preferred that EPA approved E15 today for all vehicles, we're pleased that progress is being made toward this goal," said Brian Jennings, ACE's executive vice president. "We are confident that in the long run the data will demonstrate that E15 and higher ethanol blends, such as E20 and E30, can effectively be used in all vehicles."

The Renewable Fuels Association, however, noted that the EPA's delay in approving the waiver could negatively affect the ethanol industry. "This delay threatens to paralyze the continued evolution of America's ethanol industry," said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. "As EPA itself indicated, the scientific data to date has demonstrated no ill-effects of increased ethanol use in any vehicle currently on the road. Moreover, this delay will chill investment in advanced biofuel technologies at a critical time in their development and commercialization." Dinneen suggested the EPA immediately approve an intermediate ethanol blend while the agency evaluates the waiver request.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the EPA's delayed decision on the waiver request demonstrates the agency's commitment to put science first. "The Obama administration is respecting the role of science and resisting industry pressure to put private interests ahead of public health and the environment," said Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in UCS' clean vehicles program. "Raising ethanol blend percentages without testing what it would do to air quality and vehicle engines is like going in for surgery before getting a diagnosis. It wouldn't be good for the industry or the environment to rush ahead only to find out later that we guessed wrong."