E15 waiver could cause consumer confusion

Published online: Aug 05, 2010 News Trade Only Today
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The Environmental Protection Agency's expected partial waiver to allow E15 for newer road vehicles will likely lead to boat owners mistakenly filling their tanks with a fuel that could damage their engines, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

The waiver, which the EPA expects to grant in September, would create confusion among owners of boats and other non-road vehicles and lead to "misfueling," NMMA legislative director Mat Dunn said.

"This waiver will generate an enormous amount of consumer confusion," Dunn told Soundings Trade Only. "A partial waiver is a guarantee that misfueling of boat and other non-road engines will occur and it will push E15 into many markets, which means trouble."

The action will lead to the proliferation of E15 around the country - starting in states where ethanol is readily available, such as Minnesota and Iowa - and will make it difficult for boat owners to find E10, Dunn said.

Dunn said he is hopeful that a strong letter against the waiver sent to the EPA from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce "will lead to a turn in the opposite direction and slow down EPA's decision on the waiver."

The EPA must review all congressional inquiries, including this one, according to EPA senior press officer Catherine C. Milbourn. She declined to comment about whether the letter would be reviewed before a decision on the partial waiver is handed down.

The federal government set a 10 percent limit on ethanol about three decades ago. Growth Energy, a group representing the nation's ethanol producers, petitioned the EPA early last year for a waiver to allow ethanol blends of up to 15 percent.

The NMMA argues that the EPA should deny the E15 waiver request until independent and comprehensive scientific testing is completed on a full range of marine engines and other products. E10 has led to such problems as the disintegration of fiberglass fuel tanks, the gumming up of fuel lines, and piston and valve failure.

By the end of September, Department of Energy testing on newer vehicles (covering the 2007 and earlier motor vehicle fleet) will be completed, and EPA plans to take action on the waiver request regarding the use of E15 in those vehicles, according to the EPA's latest E15 update posted on its website. If those test results support E15, EPA also will propose a labeling rule on fuel-dispensing equipment at that time, according to the website.

The letter - signed by the committee chairman, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) - asks the EPA how it plans to ensure that "increasing the permissible level of ethanol in gasoline is accomplished in a way that does not present any potential harm to ... consumers' investments in cars, trucks and other engines and equipment." It asks the EPA to "protect the investments the American people have made in their cars, trucks, boats."

The letter, dated July 29, also raises the following issues:

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