Sensenbrenner presses EPA after study links E15 to engine damage

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 18, 2012

The author of a House bill that would slow the introduction of E15 into the marketplace asked U.S. EPA yesterday to respond to a recent study that links the fuel to damage in car engines.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about her confidence in the fuel, a blend of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol. He wrote in his letter that a hasty introduction of E15 could yield “catastrophic” consequences — fires and explosions if the wrong vehicles are fueled with E15.

“The questions surrounding E15 are significant and mounting,” Sensenbrenner wrote

In 2010 and 2011, EPA approved the fuel for use in cars from model years 2001 and newer. The agency has since taken steps to bring the fuel to the marketplace but has yet to approve applications for retailers to sell it. A required fuel survey funded by the ethanol industry is also yet to be completed.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee in February approved a Sensenbrenner bill along party lines that would require EPA to commission a long-term study before giving E15 final approval. The bill has picked up a few co-sponsors since then but has yet to see any floor debate.

This week, the oil and auto industries released the results of their own long-term study of E15. That study, done by the industry-funded Coordinating Research Council, found that two popular car engines would suffer damage if used with the fuel (Greenwire, May 16).

In his letter to Jackson, Sensenbrenner said the report “bolstered the growing concerns surrounding E15.”

“In light of the new CRC study, does the EPA remain confident that E15 will not damage car engines from vehicle model years of 2001 and later?” he asked.

The ethanol industry and the Department of Energy, which conducted its own tests on E15, have dismissed that study, calling its methodology “significantly flawed.”

EPA has also maintained that it made the right decision about E15, defending its approval in a challenge brought by the oil and auto industries.

Sensenbrenner is not the only lawmaker to address concerns about E15 in proposed legislation. Earlier this year, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced legislation that would provide liability protection to oil companies and retailers that sell the fuel should any damage occur.

The House legislation received a hearing, during which its opponents brought up concerns that it would exempt oil companies from liability for any problems, including environmental contamination, that occur with any fuel (E&E Daily, April 20). A staffer for Shimkus said the legislation has been reworked and would be brought up at any markup on the bill.

Despite his opposition to E15, Sensenbrenner said he opposed the liability legislation.

“While I sympathize with these concerns, I oppose such legislation because the government should not force a fuel on consumers and then block their recourse from harm,” he said in his letter. “The better approach is to protect consumers from damage in the first place.”