Ethanol granted enhanced blend

Source: Cody Winchester • Argus Leader  • Posted: Monday, February 20, 2012


Don Jaeger fills his car with gasoline Friday at Potter Tire & Service in Bridgewater.

 Don Jaeger fills his car with gasoline Friday at Potter Tire & Service in Bridgewater. / Emily Spartz / Argus Leader

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday approved testing data for gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, clearing the way for E15 blends to be sold at gas stations across the country. The legal limit now is 10 percent.

“This is about consumer choice. No stations have to sell E15, and drivers don’t have to buy it — but we are confident they will,” Ron Lamberty, senior vice president at the American Coalition for Ethanol, said in a prepared statement.

The industry long has complained that the 10 percent “blend wall” has unfairly hampered its access to the fuel market. So in 2009, a group of ethanol companies led by Growth Energy, a trade group affiliated with Sioux Falls-based Poet, petitioned the EPA for a waiver to sell E15.

Two years later the agency granted partial waivers for E15 in newer cars and trucks and developed warning labels for pumps. But E15 blends could not be registered for sale until the EPA approved health testing data, which would identify emissions “that may pose an unreasonable risk to public health,” according to the EPA.

Now that the data — submitted by Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association, another trade group — have been approved, companies can begin registering E15 blends for sale. But E15 won’t be available at fuel stations until the EPA approves a misfueling mitigation plan, which the Renewable Fuels Association has submitted to EPA, said Matt Hartwig, a trade group spokesman.

Fuel blenders that want to bring E15 to market will be expected to use the trade groups’ data to fulfill the requirements of the registration process, the EPA said.

“Now it is up to the retailers and individual fuel companies to register for approval to sell E15. … We will work with the retail industry to bring E15 to their stations,” Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said in a news release.

Final approval of a higher ethanol blend would be a boon to South Dakota, which is the country’s No. 6 ethanol producer at more than 1 billion gallons distilled each year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Keith Alverson, a South Dakota Corngrowers Association board member who farms near Chester, said he’s confident E15 will be approved.

“(Approval will mean) finding more of a home for our market. We need something to absorb that extra ethanol that’s being produced,” he said. “There’s market demand out there, but we’ve just been limited. .”

Ethanol has faced broad political opposition in recent years, however, and midlevel blends have come under fire of late.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to require the EPA and the National Academy of Sciences to conduct further research on E15 before approving it or any other midlevel blend.

And longtime ethanol foes at the Environmental Working Group put up a web page dedicated to warning consumers away from E15.

“It is going to be extremely confusing and dangerous for consumers,” legislative analyst Sheila Karpf said in a news release. “If they make a mistake and put E15 into an older car or small engine, there’s a good chance they’ll ruin their engine and the manufacturer’s warranty won’t cover the damage.”