Shimkus offers bill to provide E15 liability protection

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013

House legislation introduced Friday would provide damage-liability protection to manufacturers and sellers of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

The bill from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, would address concerns that oil companies and auto manufacturers have raised that E15 will corrode car engines and fuel systems in cars and small-engine equipment. The measure, H.R. 1214, is similar to one introduced last year that got support from biofuel producers and oil refiners but died in committee.

U.S. EPA issued final approval for E15 last year for use in cars from model years 2001 and newer, but not for smaller vehicles like boats, motorcycles and snowmobiles. The fuel has been slow to take off in the marketplace because oil companies have refused to produce it, citing the liability concerns.

Studies funded by the oil industry and automobile manufacturers have linked the fuel with engine damage in popular car brands, though neither EPA nor the Department of Energy found any issues when testing the fuel for approval. Oil companies also worry that unapproved vehicles will inadvertently fill up with E15 at the gasoline station. EPA has created an orange sticker to warn those users at gas pumps, but small-engine manufacturers say it’s not enough to prevent misfueling.

The “Domestic Fuels Protection Act of 2013” is not limited solely to E15 but protects any entity that distributes an approved fuel if issues arise with the underground storage tank system or dispensing equipment for that fuel.

H.R. 1214 also would allow both traditional and renewable fuels to be stored and dispensed with common equipment.

According to Shimkus’ office, the bill has been altered slightly from the version introduced last Congress to address concerns that it would provide liability protection for refiners for methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). At a hearing last year, witnesses said they worried that the legislation would affect ongoing lawsuits over MTBE, a gasoline additive that has been tied to groundwater contamination (E&E Daily, April 20, 2012).

The liability legislation has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced a version in the Senate last year but have not yet reintroduced it this year.

Industry observers say Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) is also likely to reintroduce legislation this Congress that would allow consumers to sue the federal government over damage done by ethanol blends.