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Environmental group opposes higher ethanol blends

The Environmental Working Group today sent a letter and white paper to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlining its request that the agency reject a petition to increase the allowable amount of ethanol in gasoline.

The non-profit, public health and environmental research and advocacy group has the support of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

In its letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, EWG urges the federal agency to deny a petition submitted by ethanol industry consortium Growth Energy to increase by 50 percent the allowable amount of ethanol in gasoline, from 10 percent to 15 percent.

"Nationwide transition to E15 could damage vehicle emission control systems, decrease fuel economy, pose fire risks during transportation and retail, degrade water quality, worsen emissions of some air pollutants and escalate health risks for children and other vulnerable people, according to scientific studies by the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Research Council, independent academic researchers and EPA scientists," EWG said in a letter to the EPA.

The letter goes on to debunk Growth Energy's claims that vehicles burning ethanol in any amount over 10 percent would meet emissions standards during the useful lives of these machines, as is required under the waiver provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.

"Every scientific analysis involved in Growth Energy's petition is misquoted, taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted ...," EWG says.

Click here for the full letter.

In regard to non-road engines, such as boat engines, EWG says "ethanol fuels may cause many small engines to emit more hazardous air pollutants and ozone generators such as hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.

"Moreover, as indicated by a growing body of data, operation of small engines on ethanol fuel blends would likely lead to both performance and safety problems," the letter states. "Unlike modern cars, small engines lack an oxygen sensor feedback control and are unable to compensate for higher oxygen content in ethanol-containing fuels."

In a conference call this morning with EWG, NMMA legislative director Mathew Dunn said there are currently 17 million boats in use, and none of their engines have been tested for E15.

There is anecdotal and technical evidence, he said, that E10 has caused damage and failure to marine equipment, and it's expected E15 would increase these failures, as well as result in additional harmful emissions.

Furthermore, engine owner's manuals specifically warn boaters against the use of incompatible fuels. The use of fuel higher than E10 could void warranties.

In addition to sending the EPA its comments, EWG attached a detailed white paper, "Ongoing Studies of E15 and E20 Ethanol Blends Indicate Risks to Human Health as well as Safety and Performance of Motor Vehicles and Non-Road Engines."

Click here for the white paper.

"The crux of the matter is the science simply does not support Growth Energy's petition," Craig Cox, Midwest vice president of EWG, said this morning. The EPA's announcement it was extending the comment period to July shows the agency recognizes that serious scientific concerns are being raised, he said.

"[There is a] growing body of evidence that we are simply on the wrong track as far as our biofuel policy," Cox said. "I think it's past time to admit that the emperor has no clothes, that corn ethanol is a dead end."

— Beth Rosenberg



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