Critics continue to battle E15 on all fronts

The continual attacks on E15 get frustrating and tiring for those of us that recognize the positives of the fuel.
By Holly Jessen | March 04, 2013

The attacks on E15 seem to have ramped up in recent weeks. But if you look back, it’s really just more of the same. The critics tried to block E15 before the U.S. EPA approved the waiver and they are continuing to do so today.

The latest legislative attempts come from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. Back in 2011 he tried several times to delay E15 but was ultimately unsuccessful. Now he’s trying to roll back the E15 waiver and require additional testing of E15. 

Sensenbrenner’s bill came up during a Feb. 26 hearing, during which three anti-E15 witnesses talked about the Coordinating Research Council study that suggests E15 could damage engine valves and fuel system components. The U.S. DOE, which conducted the E15 testing the EPA considered before approving the waiver, has said multiple times that CRC study was “significantly flawed” but sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones reporting on that. We keep repeating it in stories and in blogs but sometimes it feels like shouting into a canyon—the words just get lost.

In addition, it’s convenient that no DOE representative was on hand to talk about its E15 testing nor balance the reporting on CRC’s study of E15. In kindergarten, that’s called picking on somebody when they aren’t there to stand up for themselves, among other things.

I listened to the full hearing and one thing that really caught my attention was the testimony from Wayne Allard, vice president of government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association. He spent several minutes of his five minute allotment complaining about the four gallon minimum rule and how it was a problem for motorcyclists. Then he talked about it again when he was asked follow up questions. As Allard himself acknowledged, the four gallon minimum rule, which required motorists to purchase at least four gallons of fuel from any dispenser that has a single hose and nozzle for E15 and E10 or straight gas, is no longer in place. If that rule is no longer in place, why is it necessary to talk about how problematic it is? Redirect much? The ethanol industry wasn’t too fond of the four gallon minimum rule either and worked with EPA on the new configuration, which was approved in early February

Allard spent less time outlining the new rule, which requires retailers selling E15 from blender pumps with single hoses to have a separate pump for straight gas or E10. That way motorcyclists or consumers seeking gas for other small engines, such as lawnmowers, can purchase gas that won’t inadvertently contain more than 10 percent ethanol. I couldn’t tell from Allard’s testimony what the AMA thinks of the new rule. “We can only imagine how many motorists and motorcyclists will be lining up at that single pump to get E10-or-lower fuel,” he said, a comment that didn’t really clear things up for me. I just don’t see the agrument—but the lines might be too long!—as being a very strong one. How many times have you ever seen a gas station descended upon my multiple small engine vehicles at one time? That would be a lot of boats, motorcycles and consumers filling gas cans for ATVs , lawnmowers and chainsaws. I checked out the AMA’s press release, which was put out after the new rule was made public, and frankly I still don’t understand. 

It’s all very frustrating, isn’t it? Perhaps some historical context will help. Back several months ago, I was interviewing people for a story about E15 that was ultimately published in the January issue of EPM. Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, was involved in the process of getting approval for E10 and he pointed out how the E10 and E15 battles are shaping up in similar ways. E10 had its critics back then too and the ethanol industry faced a constant fight against misinformation then as well. “We’ve been down this path before and it’s a challenging process,” he said. “But nonetheless we saw success with E10 and we hope that we will see some more success with E15 and higher blends.” 

Robert White, director of market development for the Renewable Fuels Association, told me that he was confident consumers will eventually have access to E15 in the marketplace. But people, even those inside the ethanol industry, forget how long it took to bring E10 to the marketplace and think E15 is taking too long. “It took essentially 30 years to get E10 in 95 percent of the fuel sold in our country,” he said. “To think E15 is going to have overnight success is a little short sighted. It will be successful, but it will take some time. Progress is happening but it is going to be slow.”