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NMMA joins effort to stop E15 fuel blends

The National Marine Manufacturers Association is working with partners outside the marine industry to stop the push for higher ethanol levels in gasoline.

Growth Energy, a group representing U.S. ethanol producers, recently filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver to allow ethanol blends of 15 percent, or E15, compared to the E10 currently in use as part of the EPA's Renewable Fuels Standard.

On Tuesday, NMMA legislative director Matthew Dunn sent a letter to both the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety detailing concerns over ethanol blends of more than 10 percent. On Wednesday, Charles Drevna, from the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, appeared before the same subcommittee to offer testimony on behalf of his group, as well as the NMMA and the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

Both cautioned subcommittee members on the need for comprehensive scientific research on the possible risks that "midlevel ethanol blends" pose to public health, consumer safety, and the environment.

"Ethanol should not be blended into gasoline at levels higher than 10 percent for use in non-flexible-fuel motor vehicles and non-road gasoline-powered engines until comprehensive, independent testing demonstrates that those so-called 'midlevel ethanol blends' are safe for consumers and do not harm the environment or public health," Drevna told subcommittee members.

Ethanol in gasoline has been shown to damage marine engines, fuel-handling systems, fuel tanks, and pollution control and safety equipment.

"It's been pretty well devastating," Ed Lofgren, president of 3M Marine Service and chairman of the Marine Retailers Association of America, told Soundings Trade Only.

"The biggest repair costs for my customers have been fuel, and these fuel problems have been exacerbated by ethanol in the last few years," he said. "If they increase ethanol in fuel, the problem could get worse."

The use of ethanol is increasingly under fire. More groups are speaking out against the corn-based oxygenate, and the political mood in Washington is beginning to shift, says the NMMA's Dunn.

In fact, Maine state senator Linda Marrache in March submitted a bill that would require oil companies to make ethanol-free fuel an option at gas stations in Maine, according to an Associated Press report.

"Given a lot of efforts raising concerns on higher ethanol blends, I think the mood is changing," Dunn told Soundings Trade Only. "But the ethanol lobby is very well-financed and working very hard to essentially force their way into the market."

Since Growth Energy filed a petition, EPA must publish a notice in the Federal Register, schedule a public comment period, and draw up a formal proposal to authorize the waiver. Dunn says the NMMA and other groups will mobilize when that proposal becomes public.

In the meantime, he says, ethanol supporters are trying to circumvent the Clean Air Act process and get an administrative action declaring that E15 is the same as E10.

"That's a slippery slope where it is gradually increased over time," said Dunn. "We will take firm action to prevent that from happening."

- Melanie Winters



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