Ouch! EPA ethanol decision angers … just about everyone

I’ll bet today was one of those days that Environmental Protection Agency officials wish they had stayed in bed.

The agency announcement that it approved the use of 15 percent ethanol fuel blends in cars made in 2007 and later managed to draw the ire of just about everyone, oil industry and environmentalists alike.

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association said the decision was all about politics and that the EPA was asking consumers to “pump first, ask questions later:”

EPA’s unwise and premature decision to allow the sale of gasoline with higher levels of ethanol may be good politics in Corn Belt states on the eve of the midterm elections, but it is bad news for every American who owns a car, truck, motorcycle, boat, snowmobile, lawnmower, chainsaw or anything else powered by gasoline.

The ethanol industry has won a victory today by convincing the federal agency charged with protecting our nation’s public health and environment to disregard public safety and environmental issues and instead base a major policy decision on inadequate engine test data that has not been made public or reviewed independently. The American people are the losers today because EPA has violated President Obama’s 2009 commitment to them to put science ahead of politics.

The American Petroleum Institute also expressed concern that  the decision was made without testing, given the possible impact on consumers:

The large majority of today’s vehicle warranties only cover gasoline with up to 10 percent ethanol.  More ethanol in gasoline could result in the voiding of customer warranties.  The EPA also seems to believe that a label on the pump will keep consumers safe from misfueling, but the impacts of misfueling are unknown until the necessary research is completed.

Environmental groups don’t necessarily love ethanol, either. Friends of the Earth campaign coordinator Kate McMahon says ethanol actually leads to more greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA’s own studies.

The only thing ‘green’ about ethanol is the color of the cash subsidies handed to it by Congress,” added McMahon.  “With this announcement, the Obama administration is bucking its own scientific findings in favor of maintaining President Bush’s failed energy policies, which increased the consumption of bad biofuels like ethanol, instead of promoting truly sustainable alternatives.”

Increased blends of ethanol in gasoline could increase emissions of toxic air pollutants, in particular nitrogen dioxide, when burned in engines not built to withstand more ethanol.  This danger applies to the vast majority of engines currently in service, from cars to boats to lawnmowers.

And, believe it or not, some in the ethanol industry are unhappy with the EPA’s decision, too.

The Renewable Fuels Association berates the EPA’s lack of scientific study for another reason: It creates an arbitrary line for which vehicles can use E15:

EPA’s scientifically unjustified bifurcation of the U.S. car market will do little to move the needle and expand ethanol use today,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “Limiting E15 use to 2007 and newer vehicles only creates confusion for retailers and consumers alike. … It’s almost as though they pulled the number out of a hat. As test after test has demonstrated, E15 is safe and effective in all light duty vehicles.

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