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House bill would block sales of E15

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., introduced a bill this week that would block the use of gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol until its harmful effects are further investigated.

H.R. 875 would repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s waiver approving the sale of E15 until the agency seeks an independent scientific analysis from the National Academy of Sciences to explore the harmful effects of the blend, according to Sensenbrenner’s office.

It’s one of a number of bills introduced in Congress seeking either the overturn of the waiver allowing E15 or asking for more studies on the effects of the fuel blend or to revisit the Renewable Fuel Standard, an EPA mandate requiring increasing use of biofuels such as ethanol that passed in 2005 and was strengthened in 2007.

Earlier this month, Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced a bill in the Senate that would overturn the EPA waivers that allowed gasoline with 15 percent ethanol to be introduced into the fuel supply and prohibit such future waivers.

Wicker’s office is already “getting a lot of pushback from the ethanol folks,” Jim Currie, legislative director of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, told Soundings Trade Only.

“We gave them a lot of material I’ve accumulated on the effects of E15, from groundwater depletion to conservation easements to food costs and engine damage,” Currie told Trade Only. “Its damages go way beyond what we as boat folks worry about. We were trying to help them on that, and I think we succeeded there.”

Currie and John McKnight, director of environmental safety and compliance for the NMMA, are also working with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., as his office drafts a bill that would re-examine the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“They are in the process of drafting a bill on ethanol that will probably go further than some of the others and get in and look at the Renewable Fuel Standard itself to see if we can do something about it,” Currie said. “The amount of ethanol the law requires us to be blending into our gasoline stream is absurd. It would increase the amount by about 1.2 billion gallons and would also require about 21 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels, and we’re not even producing that.”

Refineries have been fined in the past for not refining an amount of cellulosic biofuel that is not scientifically viable, though the courts overturned those fines for 2012 since the biofuel does not exist commercially.

“It’s like mandating to the National Institute of Health, ‘You will cure cancer by 2020,’ ” Currie said. “This is a scientific cellulosic breakthrough that would need to happen before we could produce something economically viable. It may be the fuel of the future, but it may always be the fuel of the future unless they get a scientific breakthrough.”

Sensenbrenner’s office also has introduced a separate bill to limit the EPA’s ability to mandate that refiners blend more cellulosic biofuel than is actually available.

Read more about ethanol and the American Boating Congress, where the industry will be examining ethanol and other topics, in the April issue of Soundings Trade Only.

— Reagan Haynes

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