While most automakers have been encouraging motorists to use ethanol-based E85 fuels in their latest “FlexFuel” models, the industry has joined a lawsuit aiming to block a government-mandated increase in the use of ethanol for older vehicles.
The controversy surrounds a mid-October decision by the Environmental Protection Agency which aimed to increase the amount of ethanol used in gasoline from the current 10% to 15%. The EPA claims that this partial waiver – which only covers vehicles produced since the 2007 model-year is safe. But the auto industry and others contend that ethanol could damage the engines of vehicles that haven’t been specifically designed to use it.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Marine Manufacturers Association and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Those groups are now joined by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the Detroit Big Three, Toyota and eight other companies.
The EPA had actually hoped to head off a confrontations with its modified October ruling. After an extensive delay, the agency approved use of so-called E15 fuel – made up of 85% gasoline and 15% ethanol – for relatively late-model cars and trucks, while further delaying a decision on still older products. The move would require refiners and their service stations to operate two sets of pumps, one for E15 blends, the other for the current E10 blend, which uses just 10% ethanol.
But opponents contend that even that slight increase in the amount of the alcohol fuel – typically produced from crops like corn – can be corrosive and that ethanol blends burn hotter, which can further damage engines.
“The safe and reliable use of those products is paramount to us and our customers, and the legal action we take today is to protect those customers,” said Kris Kiser, a spokesman for the Engine Products Group, an umbrella organization representing the various participants in the suit to block the EPA mandate.