The Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval to a long-delayed scheduled increase in the allowable blend of ethanol into gasoline. Previously, as much as 10 percent of the fuel sold in gas stations could be blended ethanol—which though not proven to be environmentally preferable to refined petroleum, offsets approximately 6.7 billion gallons of oil consumption annually in the United States.
Carmakers had sought to further delay the increase until more testing could be done on E15′s effects on engines. “It does not serve anyone… to introduce a new fuel prematurely or in a piecemeal fashion,” a representative from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told The Wall Street Journal. “The data is not all in yet on E15 or higher blends.”
Thanks to so-called “blenders credits,” which help to keep the price of blended ethanol below that of gasoline, refiners haven’t put up much resistance to ethanol mandates in the past, and it’s likely that this latest go-ahead from the EPA could eventually lead to as much as a 50 percent increase in the amount of ethanol sold in the United States.
But some in the industry warn that unless there is sufficient protection from potential lawsuits over the effects the higher blend might have on older vehicles and other gas-powered machinery, some companies may be hesitant to move forward.
Individual service station owners might also be reluctant to sell E15 because very few existing pumps are certified to dispense the fuel—leaving many small business owners with a choice of either paying tens of thousands of dollars for new pumps or risking breakdowns to their equipment.
In addition to the protests from the automotive and retail gas industries, E15 has also faced opposition from farmers and food suppliers. “The EPA’s action regarding the E15 waiver barely puts a band-aid on the oil dependency it is intended to alleviate, yet negatively impacts food security by further raising food and feed prices,” said National Meat Association CEO Barry Carpenter. “This is not a good decision for either consumers or U.S. agriculture.”
So why did the administration finally choose to give E15 the okay after delaying the decision for nearly two years? According to Politico, the move is viewed by many inside the Beltway as a last-minute giveaway to Midwestern agriculture interests, in an effort to shore up support for incumbent Democrats in the region. “The corn lobby has been pushing this idea for many months and this decision appears to be a concession to corn-state politics,” Clean Air Watch president Frank O’Donnell told the site.
Indeed, several unresolved points that surround the ruling seem to point to the possibility that it may have been at least somewhat rushed. Government regulators rarely move forward on decisions effecting multiple industries until issues like liability and costly equipment upgrades for gas retailers have been at least somewhat resolved. Furthermore, the EPA hasn’t yet decided how it will go about warning consumers not to use the standard gasoline that comes out of the pump at their local gas stations for their boats, chainsaws, and pre-2007 model year vehicles.
When and how these issues are addressed will determine when you can expect to see E15 at your local gas station—but as of today’s ruling, it’s now almost certain to be coming soon.