Debate Over E15 Ethanol Continues

January 4, 2011

Opposition to the EPA’s approval of a waiver requested by the ethanol industry is continuing. The action would allow an increase in the amount of their product that is used in the formulation of gasoline. Voices from the small engine industry, the group that represents the makers of machines like trimmers, chainsaws and blowers, have joined the chorus that opposes the rise from 10 to 15 percent ethanol in the nation’s primary fuel.

At question is the EPA’s October 13th decision to approve a waiver that would allow the new blend of fuel to be marketed for use in vehicles produced since the 2007 model year according to the Washington Post. The initial announcement was met with opposition from car groups of various stripes, including gasoline retailers, who fear that the higher ethanol content will create fuel storage and delivery issues that will necessitate costly retrofitting procedures.

Now the small engine people are speaking out about the ramifications of the change to their customers’ equipment. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute believes that once the gasoline retailers start selling the fuel, consumers who have filled their gas cans will have little regard for the type of fuel purchased, and burn it in incompatible equipment.

This would result in what the institute’s attorney called a “train wreck in the marketplace.” Experienced industry professionals believe that the higher concentrated E15 blend would shorten engine life and cause fuel line leaks resulting in fire hazards. This would put the 200 million pieces of existing equipment used by everyone from homeowners to landscapers at risk. Over time the industry is confident that equipment will be developed that can cope with E15.

In a related action the Wall Street Journal reported that The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. is filing a petition challenging the waiver. The grounds of the complaint are that the EPA has not done its homework on how the greater use of ethanol in the country’s gasoline supply would negatively affect air pollution or harm fuel lines, seals or engines themselves.

This coincides with the small engine group’s position that the country is not ready for such a change and that their products are more vulnerable than that of the car industry. As the Washington Post article points out, “Ethanol blends cause engines to run leaner and hotter - modern auto engines can adjust for that; lawn mowers and chain saws cannot.”  

[Wall Street Journal, Washington Post]

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