Bill requiring study of E15 up for panel vote

Source: Amanda Peterka • E&E  • Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012

A House panel this week will vote on legislation that would require U.S. EPA to commission a study of the effects of blending 15 percent ethanol in gasoline.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held two hearings on E15, as the ethanol blend is known, in the past year and tomorrow will mark up the bill.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the review is necessary to address concerns that E15 will damage the engines of vehicles.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Republican Reps. Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan, Vern Buchanan of Florida, John Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Andy Harris of Maryland and Scott Tipton of Colorado. The sole Democratic co-sponsor is Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.

In October 2010, EPA approved the 15 percent blend for use in passenger vehicles from model years 2007 and later. The agency approved E15 for use in models from 2001 to 2006 in January of last year and released a gas station label for the blend in June (E&ENews PM, June 28, 2011).

A strange-bedfellow group that includes the oil industry, car companies, the livestock community and environmental groups have all opposed E15.

“We are really supportive of this bill because we think E15 is a really horrible idea,” said Michal Rosenoer, a biofuels campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “When the oil industry and Friends of the Earth agree, it’s a rare opportunity to get something productive done.”

Sensenbrenner’s legislation, H.R. 3199, would require the agency to commission the National Academy of Sciences to conduct “a comprehensive assessment of the scientific and technical research on the implications of the use of mid-level ethanol blends” within 45 days of the bill’s passage.

The study would examine how E15 compares to gasoline blends containing zero and 10 percent ethanol.

“There are serious concerns that the EPA used only one Department of Energy test and rushed E15’s introduction into the marketplace,” Sensenbrenner said in October when introducing the bill. “This test was limited in scope and ignored a plethora of evidence — albeit inconvenient evidence for the EPA — that shows E15 gasoline has a negative effect on engines.”

“I introduced this legislation to ensure a decision of this magnitude will be vetted by independent scientific research, rather than political expediency,” he added.

When introducing the bill, Sensenbrenner cited letters Congress had received from automakers opposing E15.

“We are not confident that our vehicles will not be damaged from the use of E15,” Chrysler Group LLC told lawmakers. “The warranty information provided to our customers specifically notes that use of the blends beyond E10 will void the warranty.”

Environmental groups have called for more study on the environmental impacts of E15 and the effect it will have on corn ethanol. E15 would essentially expand the corn ethanol industry by 50 percent, Rosenoer said.

EPA has not yet completed final registration of E15, which would make it legal to distribute or sell it as a transportation fuel. When announcing the approval of the blend for vehicles made in the past decade, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that testing confirmed “E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks.”

“Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more home-grown fuels in America’s vehicles, this administration takes those steps,” Jackson said a year ago.