ETHANOL:

Small-engine groups ask EPA to continue sales of 10% fuel blends

Several trade groups representing nonroad engines and foreign automakers are petitioning U.S. EPA to require the continued sale of gasoline with no more than 10 percent ethanol content, in a parry of new regulations that would allow blends of up to 15 percent ethanol (E15) for some vehicles.

The petition comes from 12 groups including the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the American Motorcyclist Association, the Association of Global Automakers, BoatUS, and the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association and was sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this morning, according to the groups.

The letter asks EPA to require gasoline retailers to continue to make available gasoline blends of no more than 10 percent ethanol, a blend that is currently sold interchangeably with gasoline at many stations with minimal labeling.

E10, as it is called, is approved for virtually all engines in the U.S. market, but EPA is currently working to implement new regulations that would allow the sale of blends up to E15 for use in vehicles of model year 2001 and later (Greenwire, Jan. 21).

It would be prohibited to use the fuel in nonvehicle and older engines, but critics say consumers are likely to make mistakes and buy E15 for nonapproved uses. EPA has not yet publicized proposed rules about how the fuel must be labeled for sale.

The agency did not confirm by publication time whether it had received the petition.

The letter says continued sale of fuels with 10 percent or less ethanol content is needed "to ensure that there will be no damage to (or impairment of) the emissions-related components on nonroad products and older model year motor vehicles."

It argues that EPA has "clear authority" to adopt such a requirement under the Clean Air Act.

The petition says that issues regarding the continued availability of low-ethanol blends start immediately when E15 is introduced into the marketplace but will grow over time as model year 2000 and older vehicles disappear from the marketplace, and stations see less demand for low-ethanol blends. That would make dedicating a pump to sub-E10 blends more expensive relative to higher-ethanol blends, it says.

"If a retailer opts not to undergo these additional costs, it is reasonable for EPA to presume that a facility will elect to market only E15, as E15 is expected to be the cheaper fuel in the marketplace and gasoline retailing is highly price-sensitive," the petitioners said. They also pointed to the potential for low-ethanol blend supplies to disappear, further reducing its availability.

"If you leave it up to the marketplace, you potentially force people to illegally fuel their product," said Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

He underlined the economics of a situation in which roughly 200 million outdoor power equipment engines that are not certified to handle E15 -- pruners, chippers, grinders, shredders, etc. -- outnumber the vehicle engines in the marketplace but use far, far less gasoline. "We have the most equipment, but it doesn't burn much fuel," Kiser said.

The issue has also received attention on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of 10 senators in January expressed concern to EPA over access to low-ethanol blends (E&E Daily, Jan. 7).

Market should not be 'held captive'

Chris Thorne, a spokesman for ethanol trade group Growth Energy, welcomed the petition's admission that mid-level ethanol blends like E15 would be cheaper for consumers and more popular with them.

"I don't see why the vast majority of the market should be held captive to the interests of a much smaller portion of the market," he said.

Thorne had not yet read the petition but said that based on his understanding of its key points, it represents an effort to erect "artificial barriers" to E15 and increase regulation of an already heavily regulated fuels market.

Pointing to research that shows some nonroad engines can be simply modified to take E15, he said such operator adjustments, along with the inevitable disappearance from the market of devices that cannot tolerate higher-ethanol blends, will address the issue before E15 has a chance to crowd out other fuel options.

"They're going to try and make it onerous for stations to put E15 in the marketplace," Thorne said.

Click here to read the petition.

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