The Supreme Court declined to hear a legal challenge from the American Petroleum Institute against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) approval of the sale of fuel containing 15 percent ethanol this Monday. The higher-ethanol blend is intended for cars and trucks made since 2007, but not authorized for older vehicles.
Arguing that E15 is not safe, the oil industry worries that high “misfueling” risks could cause serious damage to older vehicles, and therefore issues of liability for filling station owners. Bob Greco, a senior API official, said the E15 fuel “could leave millions of consumers with broken down cars and high repair bills.” Harry Ng, API Vice President and General Counsel, called the EPA “irresponsible” for approving E15 regardless of research showing infrastructure concerns that could lead to serious safety and environmental problems. Mr. Ng said the decision is “a big loss for consumers, for safety and for our environment.”
The oil industry is still lobbying to waive or repeal the 2005 renewable fuels standard (RFS). Critics say the law imposes an economic burden on consumers, causes significant financial consequences for the agricultural sector, and some refiners say they have reached the “blend wall,” a threshold preventing them from adding more ethanol to the fuel. “The ever increasing ethanol mandate has become unsustainable, causing a looming crisis for gasoline consumers,” said Mr. 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.” The Energy and Commerce Committee has begun a review of the renewable fuel standard.
Renewable fuel supporters say the mandate was designed to drive innovation in the fuels market and force these changes, ultimately helping to wean off foreign oil in exchange for domestically produced alternatives. They say E15 is cheaper than conventional gasoline and offers similar mileage to E10. Supporters say the RFS 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.
Tom Buis, the CEO of Growth Energy, called the decision “a true victory for the American biofuels industry” as well as consumers, the economy and the environment: “The highest court in the land has spoken — they have unequivocally rejected the attempts of Big Oil and other opponents of ethanol to challenge the EPA’s sensible decision to permit the sale of E15.” Bob Dinneen, President of the Renewable Fuels Association, said it “ends a long and drawn-out petroleum industry effort to derail the commercialization of E15.”
The EPA proposed a 16.5 billion-gallon production requirement for ethanol and other gasoline alternatives this year and by 2022, the law calls for more than double that amount. As of now, E15 is offered at about 20 stations in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In the United States, Iowa produces the most ethanol and biodiesel. In 2012 the state’s 41 ethanol plants produced 3.7 billion gallons.
Oil Industry loses legal battle against E15, Fuel Fix
Boost for cars or bust? Ethanol debate heats up, Utica Observer-Dispatch
Ethanol challenge turned away by U.S. Supreme Court, Des Moines Register
For more information about these biofuel issues, read our older post, “A make-or-break year for cellulosic ethanol.”