U.S. EPA today issued a final rule on how gasoline stations must label fuel with up to 15 percent ethanol content (E15), marking a step toward legal sale of the fuel and drawing criticism from several groups that said the labels will not do enough to prevent consumers from misusing it.
The final rule, which was issued by EPA but has yet to be formally published in the Federal Register, includes an image of the label to be required, which says "attention" in capital letters and lists the vehicle types in which E15 is approved.
The label also includes, in smaller letters, the warning, "Don't use in other vehicles, boats or gasoline-powered equipment. It may cause damage and is prohibited by federal law."
The finalized label is less visually striking than EPA's earlier proposal, using a soft peach color instead of the initially suggested bright orange and calling for "attention" rather than the more alarming "caution!" that was proposed earlier (E&ENews PM, Jan. 4).
EPA has been laying the groundwork for general sale of E15 fuel following a decision in January approving it for use in light-duty vehicles made in model year 2001 or later. Prior to that decision and a similar one last year covering slightly newer vehicles, E15 has only been approved for use in flex-fuel vehicles that are specially designed to handle it.
The new rule on labeling comes after a testing program by EPA, together with the Department of Energy, found that E15 did not harm the emissions control systems of recent-model vehicles.
EPA said the new rule was developed in cooperation with the Federal Trade Commission and adopts elements of FTC's existing labelling system for alternative fuels.
In its 180-or-so pages, the rule also includes a requirement to track E15 and other fuels in the supply chain for proper labeling, a survey designed to verify use of the new label and steps to let fuel producers certify the fuel as complying with specifications.
"This action will help to further reduce the risks of potential misfueling that could result in damage to the vehicle or equipment and in associated emission increases that pose threats to human health and the environment," EPA said, noting that E15 use under the new rules will be allowed but not required.
The agency also rejected a petition to require the continued sale of fuel with no ethanol (E0) or with the lower, 10 percent ethanol content allowed today (E10).
That petition, submitted by the American Motorcyclist Association and other groups representing small, off-highway and other unapproved engines, expressed concern that E15 would push E10 out of the marketplace in some areas. That would leave the owners with no choice but to risk harm to their equipment -- and violation of the law -- by using E15 (Greenwire, March 23).
In rejecting the petition, EPA said the widespread adoption of E15 would take years, leaving plenty of time to address this issue if it arises.
"While EPA appreciates that the availability of appropriate fuels is important to mitigating misfueling, it is premature for EPA to try to forecast now how E15 will be distributed and marketed over the next several years, and how this might impact the availability of E10," the rule said. "EPA will work with stakeholders to monitor those circumstances and timely address any E10 availability issues that are based on those specific circumstances."
E15 critics express dismay
With the release of the final rule, some ethanol groups expressed muted satisfaction while critics said their voices went largely unheard.
"We appreciate EPA finally releasing this rule in response to Growth Energy's E15 petition," said Tom Buis, CEO of the group that filed for E15's approval. "This is another step in the process to get E15 into the marketplace later this year, which will create U.S. jobs, improve the environment and strengthen national security by displacing foreign oil."
But Sheila Karpf, a legislative and policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) who focuses on biofuels, said the final rule does not do enough to inform and protect consumers.
EWG has long opposed expanded use of corn ethanol, arguing that the fuel is bad for the environment, as well as for air quality and engines.
"A label can only do so much to protect consumers from the hazards of misfueling with E15 and won't prevent a wave of voided vehicle warranties when vehicles are misfueled," Karpf said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that the Obama administration, in a rush to placate the corn ethanol lobby, is going to hurt consumers and ultimately taxpayers, who will be forced to address the damage done by our misguided ethanol policy."
Karpf said the group had commented on EPA's proposed rule, urging the agency to include more information and make the warning stronger, and to include a toll-free phone number or website where consumers could get more information from EPA about the fuel being dispensed.
EWG also suggested that labels be required on all gasoline blends that include ethanol, a suggestion that EPA declined to take up in this rulemaking.
The agency said it would be "confusing and counterproductive" to address blends over E15 in this process. Under the ongoing process of approving E15 for general sale, higher-ethanol blends ranging up to 85 percent ethanol will remain available from some special pumps that cater to flex-fuel vehicles.
But that leaves many details of the labeling of higher-ethanol blends up to states, Karpf said, potentially robbing consumers of needed information.
Today's announcement is one step of several on the path toward drivers filling up with E15. EPA said that additional steps include formally registering E15 as a motor vehicle fuel under the Clean Air Act, dealing with compatibility issues between E15 -- which is more corrosive than conventional gasoline -- and fuel storage and dispensing equipment, and potential changes to state and local rules.
Companies in the fuel distribution and usage chain, like refiners, distributors and service station owners, are also likely to seek resolution of liability issues before choosing to sell E15. Currently, if a federally approved vehicle used E15 and were damaged by the fuel it is unclear which parties would be found responsible.
The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association also expressed its displeasure with the final rule and said it would take steps to challenge it.
"The last time EPA allowed two types of gasoline to be sold side-by-side at retail stations -- when leaded gasoline was phased out in the 1970s -- EPA's own statistics reported that more than 20 percent of motorists mistakenly or intentionally misfueled their vehicles," NPRA President Charles Drevna said in a statement. "This high rate of misfueling occurred despite the fact that EPA mandated physical barriers -- fill pipe restricters on vehicles and smaller nozzles on gasoline retail dispensers -- in addition to pump labels."
"NPRA and others will be reviewing the misfueling rule carefully to determine if EPA has unlawfully abdicated its consumer and environmental protection responsibilities under the Clean Air Act," Drevna said.
Click here to read the final rule.