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Boost for cars or bust? Ethanol debate heats up

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:48 a.m. HST, Jun 24, 2013

WASHINGTON » It's a dilemma for drivers: Do they choose a gasoline that's cheaper and cleaner even if, as opponents say, it could damage older cars and motorcycles?

That's the peril and promise of a high-ethanol blend of gasoline known as E15. The fuel contains 15 percent ethanol, well above the current 10 percent norm sold at most U.S. gas stations.

The higher ethanol blend is currently sold in just fewer than two dozen stations in the Midwest, but could spread to other regions as the Obama administration considers whether to require more ethanol in gasoline.

As a result, there's a feverish lobbying campaign by both oil and ethanol interests that has spread from Congress to the White House and the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court today rejected a challenge by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's chief lobbying group, to block sales of E15. The justices left in place a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed challenges by the oil industry group and trade associations representing food producers, restaurants and others.

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, hailed the decision as victory for U.S. consumer, who will now have greater choice at the pump.

"Now that the final word has been issued, I hope that oil companies will begin to work with biofuel producers to help bring new blends into the marketplace that allow for consumer choice and savings," Buis said.

The API had argued that E15 was dangerous for older cars.

Putting fuel with up to 15 percent ethanol into older cars and trucks "could leave millions of consumers with broken down cars and high repair bills," said Bob Greco, a senior API official who has met with the White House on ethanol issues.

The ethanol industry counters that there have been no documented cases of engine breakdowns caused by the high-ethanol blend since limited sales of E15 began last year.

"This is another example of oil companies unnecessarily scaring people, and it's just flat-out wrong," said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry group.

The dispute over E15 is the latest flashpoint in a long-standing battle over the Renewable Fuel Standard, approved by Congress in 2005 and amended in 2007. The law requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline each year as a way to decrease reliance on fossil fuels and lower greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a 16.5 billion-gallon production requirement for ethanol and other gasoline alternatives this year, up from 15.2 billion gallons last year. By 2022, the law calls for more than double that amount.

Biofuel advocates and supporters in Congress say the law has helped create more than 400,000 jobs, revitalized rural economies and helped lower foreign oil imports by more than 30 percent while reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

But the oil industry, refiners and some environmental groups say the standard imposes an unnecessary economic burden on consumers. Using automotive fuel that comes from corn also has significant consequences for agriculture, putting upward pressure on food prices, critics say.

"The ever increasing ethanol mandate has become unsustainable, causing a looming crisis for gasoline consumers," said the API's Greco. "We're at the point where refiners are being pressured to put unsafe levels of ethanol in gasoline, which could damage vehicles, harm consumers and wreak havoc on our economy."

Along with the E15 court case, the API and refiners have swarmed Capitol Hill and the White House to try to have the current mandate waived or repealed.

Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents refineries, accused the EPA of putting politics ahead of science.

An EPA official told Congress earlier this month that the agency does not require use of E15, but believes it is safe for cars built since 2001.

"The government is not saying 'go ahead' " and put E15 in all cars, said Christopher Grundler, of the EPA's director of the office of transportation and air quality. "The government is saying this is legal fuel to sell if the market demands it and there are people who wish to sell it."

Ethanol supporters say E15 is cheaper than conventional gasoline and offers similar mileage to E10, the version that is sold in most U.S. stations.

Scott Zaremba, who owns a chain of gas stations in Kansas, scoffs at claims that E15 would damage older cars. "In the real world I've had zero problems" with engine breakdowns, said Zaremba, whose station in Lawrence, Kan., was the first in the nation to offer E15 last year.

But Zaremba said he had to stop selling the fuel this spring after his gasoline supplier, Phillips 66, told him he could no longer sell the E15 fuel from his regular black fuel hoses. The company said the aim was to distinguish E15 from other gasoline with less ethanol, but Zaremba said the real goal was to discourage use of E15. New pumps cost more than $100,000.

The American Automobile Association, for now, sides with the oil industry. The motoring club says the government should halt sales of E15 until additional testing allows ethanol producers and automakers to agree on which vehicles can safely use E15 while ensuring that consumers are adequately informed of risks.

A spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 major car makers, said E15 gas is more corrosive and the EPA approved it before it could be fully tested.

Older cars were "never designed to use E15," spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said. Use of the fuel over time could create significant engine problems, she said.

The API cites engine problems discovered during a study it commissioned last year, but the Energy Department called the research flawed and said it included engines with known durability issues.

For now, E15 remains a regional anomaly. About 20 stations currently offer the fuel in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

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palani wrote:
"a gasoline that's cheaper and cleaner"? No, neither assertion is true. Ethanol mandates have only benefited corn farmers, at the cost of driving up almost all other food prices for the consumer. Eliminate both direct taxpayer funded and indirect via mandate subsidies to all "alternative" energy producers. Virtually unlimited domestic oil and natural gas reserves are available, if only the federal government would get out of the way. Look how states such as North Dakota and Texas have boomed from doing just that.
on June 24,2013 | 05:08AM
onevoice82 wrote:
I agree palani and add that the blend does harm engines, it has ruined several of my yard tools already.
on June 24,2013 | 05:21AM
palani wrote:
And that costly damage really is no different than another hidden tax.
on June 24,2013 | 05:42AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Not to mention the cost of corn.
on June 24,2013 | 07:11AM
gsr wrote:
So onevoice82 where do you get your E15?
on June 24,2013 | 06:31AM
hybrid1 wrote:
The E-10 caused damage to the gas engines on my pressure washer and lawnmower.... I now use only ethonol- free gasoline.
on June 24,2013 | 07:36AM
tiki886 wrote:
I agree. The scam of ethanol, a fuel that has been pushed as "green" by corn growers who obviously benefit from the increased demand for their crops. But ethanol is largely a scam: It takes nearly as much fuel to fertilize, grow and process ethanol as you get back out of it, making it an extremely inefficient plant-based fuel.

At the same time, ethanol is also causing more pollution in the form of ozone than regular gasoline. So it's not cleaner and greener; it's actually dirtier and wasteful.

Ozone at high altitudes is considered desirable because it blocks ultraviolet rays that contribute to skin cancer. At sea level, however, ozone can create significant respiratory difficulties for some individuals even in relatively low doses. Ozone also causes smog in urban areas; it can inflict crop damage in rural areas; and it may turn out to be the real culprit in the forest damage that has been attributed to acid rain.

Ozone is also very corrosive on steel parts. It causes pitting. Most vehicles have aluminum alloy engines but other parts may be made of steel such as the gas tank, fuel lines and injectors. It also shortens the lifetime performance of vehicle emissions control systems. It also tends to deteriorate non-synthetic and natural rubber fuel system parts.

Many non road engines like yard tools have steel engines which causes pitting and reduces the life time of those engines. E5, E10 and E85 all cause similar damage but increases the damage the more you put into the fuel mixture.

on June 24,2013 | 08:25AM
tiki886 wrote:
Here is a website that is more sympathetic to E15. Fair and balanced. You decide. Remember E15 must be used only in flex fuel vehicles and hybrid vehicles but it will be mandatory that all cars made in the future will have to be these types of vehicles.


on June 24,2013 | 08:49AM
tiki886 wrote:
Sorry. This website promotes E85, 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded fuel. Do you believe the claims it promotes?
on June 24,2013 | 09:03AM
entrkn wrote:
on June 24,2013 | 06:52AM
bigfish wrote:
In Hawaii you get 15% everywhere. People in the industry say ours could be as high as 20% already. I have an idea put it on a ballot or let the states decide. If you are an oil company and you want to continue doing business you are required to to provide the American public with a choice of ethanol or non ethanol for the same price.
on June 24,2013 | 07:08AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
I only seen E10 gasoline at gas stations...not the E15 blend...
on June 24,2013 | 07:47AM
kahaluu96744 wrote:
Part of the justification of requiring ethanol for Hawaii was to stimulate ethanol production from cane sugar. How long ago was that, and where is the ethanol production facility in Hawaii? In the meantime, ethanol has to be imported from foreign nations; another drain of our dollars to a foreign country!
on June 24,2013 | 07:11AM
noshortcuts wrote:
It's cheaper to import ethanol from Brazil, then to produce ethanol locally. That's why there isn't a facility in Hawaii.
on June 24,2013 | 09:07AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Not only car engines are affected by ethanol...also small engines such as chain saws, weed wackers, generators, and older outboard engines are often ruined by ethanol blended gasoline. Not to mention that grain has to be imported to Hawaii in order to refine ethanol blended gasoline. We need to get rid of ethanol from gasoline.....
on June 24,2013 | 07:43AM
Paulus_and_Hueichen wrote:
We were not given a choice in adding ethanol to our fuel. Now we see ethanol free at a much higher price.
on June 24,2013 | 07:52AM
false wrote:
Ban all ethanol gas... it's bad for your car, cost more, and you get less gas milage. It is no good... stupid idea in the first place... get rid of ethanol gas NOW.
on June 24,2013 | 08:12AM
Dolphin743 wrote:
The last studies I saw made a compelling case that it takes more than one gallon of regular gasoline/diesel to produce one gallon of ethanol. The calculation came from tallying the amount of energy involved in preparing, planting, managing, and harvesting the fields plus the amount of petroleum required to make/transort the fertilizers (a huge factor) plus the transportation of the products to processing facilities plus the energy required to produce the ethanol from the corn and further transport it to refineries and blending facilities. There is nothing "green" about ethanol. The only reason it has any market share is because the government requires it. Becuase of ethanol, we pay more for fuel and for corn--which affects many other food prices. Ethanol is bad science and bad market manipulation policy.
on June 24,2013 | 08:39AM
bigfish wrote:
Wow I was censored by the Advertiser for saying I had 3000.00 in ethanol related damage. Unbelievable!
on June 24,2013 | 08:54AM
poidragon wrote:
"Ethanol supporters say E15 is cheaper than conventional gasoline and offers similar mileage to E10, the version that is sold in most U.S. stations." Time to put up or shut the hell up and prove your point! Scientifically prove that E15 works and does not harm engines and other motorized tools that use fuel to run or take it off the market!
on June 24,2013 | 10:30AM
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