Public sours on E15 — oil industry poll

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A poll commissioned by petroleum companies suggests public opinion is against expanded availability of higher-ethanol fuel, an industry group said today.

The Harris poll of 1,001 registered voters across the country showed that 79 percent of respondents are concerned about expanded E15 sales and compatibility with vehicles, some of which aren’t designed for the higher ethanol content of 15 percent.

“Consumers are speaking loud and clear,” said Frank Macchiarola, vice president of downstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, in a conference call with reporters.

The poll comes as EPA prepares regulations to open the way to year-round sales of E15. Sales are currently restricted during the summer months in most of the country, due to ozone regulations, although the ethanol industry says E15 doesn’t pose a greater ozone risk than fuel that’s 10 percent ethanol, which is standard at gas stations.

Expanded availability of E15 is a top priority for the ethanol industry as well as for lawmakers in parts of the country where ethanol dominates, as in Iowa. President Trump has promised since his 2016 campaign to promote ethanol and directed EPA to craft regulations expanding E15.

While the president’s moves have appeared politically calculated to help Republicans in corn country, Macchiarola said the latest poll suggests that position is a loser with voters overall.

“We don’t believe this decision is popular with the general public,” Macchiarola said.

Petroleum and ethanol groups are at odds over the benefits and risks of E15. While API said as many as 75 percent of vehicles on the road aren’t designed for it, the Renewable Fuels Association has said that E15 is approved by EPA for most cars and that more than 90 percent of new models are compatible for the fuel.

Ethanol advocates have cited their own polls suggesting the public is more at ease with E15. A Morning Consult poll conducted in May indicated that nearly 80 percent of respondents said seasonal restrictions on E15 should be lifted. That tracking poll reached 1,996 registered voters, of whom 984 respondents provided an answer on the question.

EPA has promised to propose regulations in February, which could lead to E15 sales next summer. Macchiarola declined to comment at length about a potential lawsuit over the issue, noting that proposed regulations have yet to be released. “Obviously, we’re going to be considering all our potential options,” he said.