AAA urges regulators to halt sale of E15

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, December 3, 2012

North America’s largest motorist group called on regulators to suspend the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, warning of vehicle damage and voided car warranties.

AAA, which operates several regional branches across the country, said its call for action was based on the results of a survey finding that the overwhelming majority of motorists have not heard of E15. The auto association also found that about 5 percent of the cars on the road today have been approved to use the fuel and said allowing E15 in the marketplace would lead to consumer confusion.

“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle,” AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement today. “Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”

Earlier this year, U.S. EPA completed the final approvals necessary for the use of E15 in cars with model years 2001 and newer in response to a petition from the biofuels industry. Previous regulations had allowed only up to 10 percent ethanol in gasoline, but the industry argued that the barrier meant they were forced to ship ethanol overseas.

E15 is currently sold at a handful of gas stations in the Midwest. A few automakers — General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Porsche — have said they would cover E15 use in certain, mostly newer cars, but several others have publicly said that their warranties would not cover the use of the fuel.

E15 is not approved for use in any off-highway or smaller vehicles and appliances like boats, motorcycles, lawn mowers or snowmobiles.

AAA said it found that 12 million of the 240 million light-duty vehicles on the road today were covered by manufacturers for using E15. In a telephone survey of 1,012 adults in the United States, the association said that 95 percent had no knowledge of E15.

Regulators and fuel producers, AAA said, should do a “better job of educating consumers” about E15 before selling it.

“The sale and use of E15 should be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles,” Darbelnet said. “Consumers should carefully read pump labels and know their auto manufacturer’s recommendations to help prevent any problems from E15.”

The group warned of possible damage from using E15 in vehicles, including engine wear, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights. An oil industry-funded study earlier this year found that E15 damaged two popular vehicle engines, though EPA and Department of Energy testing has not found damage associated with E15 in cars from model years 2001 and newer.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, today defended E15 and pointed to a study showing that ethanol reduced the price of gasoline by more than $1 in 2011. He said that AAA’s concern was “misplaced” and accused the motor group of trying to protect oil companies rather than consumers.

“If AAA weren’t so deep in the Big Oil politics, they would stop manufacturing concern about the efficacy of ethanol blend use and report enthusiastically about ethanol’s consumer gasoline price savings,” Dinneen said. “Their misplaced concern today, that E15 should be further tested before being offered for sale, reflects a pathetic ignorance of EPA’s unprecedented test program before approving E15 for commercial use.”

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who has introduced legislation that would force EPA to do further study of E15, applauded AAA’s statement.

“AAA’s findings affirm what we have already heard — E15 causes premature engine damage and voids warranties, even on new models,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “Concerns about E15 are not diminishing, they are increasing. That is telling. When an organization like AAA, a nationally trusted source for motorists, calls out the EPA, you would think the administration would listen.”