E15 clears federal hurdle, but more obstacles to pump sales remain

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The U.S. biofuel industry moved another step closer today to making E15 — gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol — available at fuel pumps.

Ninety-nine ethanol producers have funded a nationwide fuel survey required by U.S. EPA in partial waivers approving E15, ethanol industry groups said today. The survey is the last federal action required before E15 can be sold to U.S. drivers, the groups said.

“With this survey in place, E15 is now ready in the eyes of EPA for commercial sale,” the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Coalition for Ethanol said in a statement.

Ethanol blenders and retailers are required to register for the survey with the RFG Survey Association Inc., an entity developed by the American Petroleum Institute, the former National Petroleum Refiners Association and EPA to determine if compliance programs for reformulated gasolines meet the standards of the Clean Air Act.

Ethanol producers are providing the bulk of funding for the survey, the cost for which is based on the amount of E15 they plan to blend. A few weeks ago, the Renewable Fuels Association estimated the nationwide cost of the survey at between $2.2 million and $2.5 million.

But E15 still faces more hurdles.

While Iowa, Illinois and Kansas are encouraging the sale of E15, others have prohibitions against its sale. EPA’s limits on the maximum vapor pressure allowed by a fuel during the summer months may also delay E15’s introduction.

And several oil, automobile and food trade groups are challenging EPA’s approval of E15 in federal court. In oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week, judges signaled they agreed with the challengers but questioned whether they had standing to bring the case to court (Greenwire, April 17).

The ethanol industry today decried criticisms of E15, which include concerns that the fuel will damage car engines. Where E15 is sold, retailers will be required to attach a label to the gas pumps warning that the fuel is suitable only for cars from model year 2001 and newer.

“We will work diligently with the petroleum industry, gas retailers, automakers and consumers to ensure E15 is used properly,” the trade groups said. “But we will not stand idly by and allow some of these interests to make wild and unsubstantiated claims about ethanol and E15 in order to malign ethanol and scare consumers.”