An alliance of 14 industry groups representing mostly oil, gas and car companies says in a new letter to the feds that its members “want biofuels to succeed in the U.S.,” but they want more data and more time to comment before the Environmental Protection Agency decides whether to allow higher levels of ethanol in gasoline (h/t Autoblog Green). Keep in mind, the Environmental Protection Agency already extended the public comment period last year for that controversial question, which could increase demand for ethanol in the U.S. and which some ethanol backers are painting as a make-or-break issue for the industry.
Now, in a six-page letter addressed this week to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and White House climate czar Carol Browner, the group — including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute – say they want the EPA to hold off on final decisions about ethanol fuel blend standards until after the Department of Energy has spent “all the $15 million targeted for expanding and accelerating mid-level ethanol blends research in the 2010 appropriations bill.”
The position to support a delay puts the group behind the letter directly in conflict with the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol lobbying group, which warned last month the EPA’s delay “threatens to paralyze the continued evolution of America’s ethanol industry.” It’s the companies that make the cars and run the gas stations, rather than those that produce the ethanol, that will have to deal most directly with the potential consequences of a new fuel blend, such as vehicle warranty issues or new equipment requirements. And it’s these companies’ brands on the line if customers aren’t happy with how their vehicles perform with the new blends.
Ethanol lobbying group Growth Energy (headed by General Wesley Clark) and 54 ethanol manufacturers applied in March 2009 for approval to use a 15 percent blend of ethanol in gasoline, rather than the current max blend of 10 percent. Federal statutes called for the EPA to provide an answer within 270 days. The EPA previously had a December 1, 2009 deadline to hand down a decision on this issue.
But the EPA opted to postpone its decision until mid-2010 to allow for more testing. As Green Inc. wrote, the EPA said, “some initial results indicate that raising the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline would be feasible for newer cars,” likely models from 2001 and later.
Most of this week’s letter is dedicated to a summary of research the groups would like the government to pursue. Higher levels of ethanol can damage engines, they note, and the “effects of long term exposure need to be determined.” Furthermore, the groups argue that the DOE should add testing of electronic sensors to its program, and they claim the agency’s testing of fuel dispensers is incomplete: “There are too many different dispensers installed across the country for the DOE testing to be sufficient.”
The importance that some ethanol proponents are putting on this E15 waiver decision highlights a difference in priorities for the corn ethanol vs. cellulosic ethanol industries. As Katie reported from the Las Vegas Clean Energy Summit this summer, getting even an incremental uptick in ethanol blends is the top priority for Growth Energy in the face of a difficult year for the industry, with plants closed down and a slew of bankruptcies. But for earlier-stage cellulosic ethanol developers, more focus is on proving that the economics of their technology works at a large commercial scale — a milestone that keeps slipping just out of reach.
Image courtesy of the Department of Energy