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EPA Approves Even Broader Use of Ethanol

Feds say increased alcohol content safe for older cars.

by on Jan.21, 2011

The EPA opens up a beaker of, er, worms with its mandate calling for expanded use of ethanol.

Following up on a controversial decision, last October, requiring the increased use of corn-based ethanol in gasoline by relatively new cars, trucks and crossovers, the Environmental Protection Agency has expanded that ruling to include models dating back to 2001.

The move is expected to generate even more opposition – and potential legal efforts to block the decision.  If allowed the stand, roughly two-thirds of all cars on the road will soon be using E15, rather than older E10 fuel.

The EPA’s announcement, last October, took a Solomon-like stand, calling for the switch to E15 – which is made up of 15% alcohol and 85% gasoline – for cars produced since 2007.  The agency delayed a decision on older models pending further studies to see if the higher ethanol content might result in damage to fuel tanks, fuel lines or engines.  After determining E15 was safe, EPA regulators decided to expand its use for models produced as far back as 2001.

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But the debate is certain to continue.  In December, a coalition of automakers signed on to participate in a lawsuit aimed at blocking the switch to E15.  Along with marine engine and power tool makers, they contend that the increased level of alcohol, a corrosive, may damage older vehicles not intentionally modified for its use.

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Automakers Sue To Block Expanded Ethanol Usage

Makers claim renewable fuel could damage engines.

by on Dec.21, 2010

Automakers join a lawsuit aimed at blocking the expanded use of ethanol in gasoline.

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.

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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.

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