Industry urges EPA to create fair E15 label

By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2010
Posted Nov. 18, 2010

Approximately 30 representatives from the transportation fuels sector offered testimony to the U.S. EPA regarding its proposed E15 label rule at a public hearing held Nov. 16 in Chicago. Ethanol producers, fuel marketers, engine manufacturers and petroleum industry representatives were on hand to present their ideas to the EPA on how the agency should label E15. Not surprisingly, petroleum representatives, some of whom recently filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA's E15 waiver decision, expressed their opposition to the use of E15 and said a label will do nothing to prevent unauthorized use of the fuel.

"It is inevitable that if E15 is made available at retail stations, many consumers will misfuel," said Gregory Scott, executive vice president and general counsel of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. "This misfueling may occur intentionally, due to price differential or a quality perception, or unintentionally, due to consumer confusion or inattention. Such misfueling cannot be avoided merely with a dispenser label."

The ethanol industry also takes issue with the proposed E15 label, but for different reasons. During the hearing, Ron Lamberty, vice president and director of market development for the American Coalition for Ethanol, offered several examples of how labeling has adversely affected ethanol. "The issue of labeling is significant to the ethanol industry, and history shows that ethanol labels cause as many problems - and maybe more problems - than ethanol itself," he said. In Oklahoma, for example, he said some marketers were blending ethanol into gasoline for two years before consumers began to complain about damages. The reported problems with ethanol arose only after labeling was required in 2009. Likewise in Missouri. Lamberty said ethanol was used in that state for years, but complaints regarding the use of ethanol-blended fuel in gasoline didn't occur until after a widely publicized statewide E10 mandate went into effect in 2008.

The EPA's proposed label is bright orange and prominently displays the word "CAUTION!" at the top of the label. At the bottom of the label is a statement informing consumers that the fuel may cause damage to vehicles not approved for use with E15. Some ethanol industry members take offense to both the proposed color and the proposed language of the label, claiming that it presents E15 as a dangerous fuel choice and will alarm consumers. Suggested changes submitted to the EPA so far include making the label white instead of orange and removing the word "damage" from the legal warning, as there is not yet conclusive evidence proving that E15 would actually damage older vehicles.

An overly cautious E15 label could greatly exasperate the public awareness issues currently being battled by the ethanol industry, as pointed out by Lamberty in his testimony. He told EPA officials that over the course of his 30-year career in the petroleum business as a retailer, marketer and wholesale jobber manager he has never witnessed a greater proliferation of misinformation regarding ethanol than now. "Today, the anti-ethanol sentiment is a direct result of ethanol opponents' efforts to protest the E15 waiver by filling the record with unsubstantiated ethanol spook stories' of what they think might happen, while offering no evidence that any problems would occur with E15," he said.

Lamberty urged ethanol producers and marketers to insist that the EPA's labeling policy fairly treat ethanol and require no more of non-petroleum fuels than it does of petroleum-based fuels. Comments on the EPA's proposed rule are being accepted until Jan. 3. For more information or to submit a comment, visit www.epa.gov/otaq/regs/fuels/additive/e15/index.htm.