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EPA faces new legal challenge over E15

By Kris Bevill | September 23, 2011

A coalition of automakers, marine manufacturers and small engine manufacturers continue to mount lawsuits against the U.S. EPA regarding its decision to allow E15 to be used in 2001 and newer vehicles, the latest being a legal challenge in opposition to its final E15 labeling rule. According to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the EPA’s labeling effort is “completely inadequate” in protecting consumers against misfueling and could result in damage to millions of unapproved vehicles.

“We are asking that the EPA do more to protect the consumer,” OPEI President and CEO Kris Kiser said. “We need to educate the public on a new fuel entering the market that is about to fundamentally change how we purchase and dispense gasoline. And, we need to ensure that consumers can still find E10 for the millions of product - lawnmowers, chainsaws, motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and UTVs, boats and older cars – that still use an E10 legacy fuel.”

The EPA issued its final rule regarding the mitigation of misfueling engines with E15 on June 27. The fuel is not yet legally able to be sold as there continues to be a number of issues to be resolved before it can enter the marketplace, including certification of infrastructure to dispense the fuel. The EPA’s approval of E15 for use in certain vehicles is not a mandate, but groups including OPEI maintain that it is possible retailers will eventually shift away from selling E10, making it difficult for small engine and marine equipment operators to purchase suitable fuel for their equipment.

Earlier this year, the groups filed a request with the EPA, asking it to issue a mandate requiring retailers to continue offering E10. The EPA denied the request, stating that requiring the continued availability of E10 or lower ethanol blends would be premature and potentially unnecessary, considering that E15 has not yet entered the marketplace. “As the transition to E15 occurs, we will work with fuel producers, distributors, and marketers to monitor the availability of E15, E10, and E0 so that any problems can be addressed on a timely basis,” the agency stated in its ruling.

OPEI interpreted the ruling a bit more dramatically. “Consumers are really on their own at this point, and we just think that is unfair and potentially harmful from both a safety and economic perspective,” Kiser said in a statement.

It is unclear when E15 will be cleared for sale in the U.S. During an industry conference held in New Orleans on Sept. 22, Ed Hubbard, who serves as legislative counsel for the Renewable Fuels Association, predicted it could be up to five years before E15 penetrates 50 percent of the retail fuel market. “It’s going to be a difficult process,” he said. “It’s a big infrastructure problem.” It is unclear whether E15 can be certified by the Underwriter’s Laboratory for existing infrastructure, he said, and the RFA is currently working to clarify that issue. Also, it is believed that sales of E85 could dramatically drop when the 45-cent-per-gallon Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit expires at the end of this year. One possible outcome from that situation could be that retailers replace E85 with E15 in those dispensers, he said. “If it’s able to distribute E85 or higher blends, certainly it could do E15.”

 

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