Witnesses bash E15 during one-sided House committee hearing

By Holly Jessen | February 26, 2013

A Feb. 26 hearing featured testimony of three E15 critics, including a representative of the Coordinating Research Council, which has authored research reports concluding E15 could damage engine valves and fuel system components. Absent from the witness list were members of the ethanol industry or the U.S. DOE, which completed the E15 testing that was used in the approval of the E15 waiver.

Titled “Mid-level ethanol blends: Consumer and technical research needs,” the hearing was held by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Environmental Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, vice chairman of the committee, opened by claiming that the U.S. EPA approved E15 based on a single set of narrow tests, leading to a “haphazard transition to E15 usage marked by regulatory confusion, bungled implementation and lack of consumer education,” he said. The point of the hearing was to examine what E15 research should be conducted before its use is widespread and what research and development should be required in advance of the introduction of future new fuels. He also referred to draft legislation written by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., which, if introduced, would seek to require the EPA to contract with the National Academy of Science to assess the need for additional E15 research.

The next speaker was Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., a former member of the state Oregon House of Representatives, who was elected to federal office in a special election on Jan. 31, 2012. Bonamici spoke in defense of producing homegrown renewable fuels, asserting that reaching the blend wall should not be a reason to give up on the industry. It was perplexing, she said, that in a committee where science is paramount, that the studies cited and main literature provided were funded or came from the automotive and petroleum industries.

Further, Bonamici said, the E15 reports completed by the CRC represent only one side.  The U.S. DOE, which has called the accuracy of the CRC reports into question, nor the EPA, which approved the E15 waiver, were not called as witnesses at the hearing, she pointed out. In an effort to bring balance, she submitted for the record alterative views on E15 and testing of the fuel. Although other legislators countered that additional witness could have been invited to speak by the Democratic side, Bonamici explained that by the time it had been confirmed that a representative of the CRC was to speak, it was too late to invite additional speakers. She also pointed out that out of thousands of gas stations, only about 18 offer E15 currently. In addition, she referenced studies that have shown ethanol saves drivers money at the pump.

The first two witnesses included Robert Darbelnet, president and CEO of the American Automobile Association, and Wayne Allard, vice president of government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association. They called for additional testing of E15 and expressed concerns about missfueling. Allard spent several minutes during his five-minute testimony and under questioning discussing the four-gallon minimum rule for single hose gas pumps, despite the fact that an alternate fueling configuration was approved in early February. 

The third witness, Mike Leister, a member of the board of directors for the CRC, spoke about the testing that organization completed on E15. He claimed the EPA improperly used a DOE study that was focused more on emissions than engine durability and that the CRC testing met a higher standard.

Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association spoke out prior to the hearing, criticizing it for its one-sided nature.  The Fuels America coalition released a statement the same day as the hearing, calling E15 a safe, clean, high-quality fuel that was tested more than any other fuel. “Today’s hearing on the merits of E15 is like a scene from Groundhog Day: we’ve seen it all before,” the group said. “Oil-backed organizations, like the Coordinating Research Council, and others like AAA continue to ignore years of work and millions of miles of testing that went into the approval of E15.”

The American Coalition for Ethanol also spoke out the day of the hearing. Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of ACE, sent a lengthy letter to the chairman and ranking member of the committee, outlining concerns on the CRC’s E15 testing results. “The E15 debate is not about fuel quality,” he said in the letter. “Porsche approves the use E15 in 2001 and newer cars.  The companies who make lawnmowers don’t approve it.  Some engines just are not of sufficient quality to handle today’s fuels.  E15 has been thoroughly tested, including several successful tests by CRC, as a safe fuel for approved vehicles and engines.” The letter also references a chart illustrating that none of the seven vehicles testing by CRC were among the top ten best-selling vehicles by year.