Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency waived the cap on selling gas that has more than 10 percent ethanol. The waiver will allow the ethanol content to rise to 15 percent, known as E15.

I would like to point out that this dramatic change has come only after broad-based discussions, careful deliberation and in-depth studies backed by all-embracing tests of marine engines, among a myriad of others. I’d like to be able to say all that.

Instead, the fact is this decision has been pumped out by EPA just before a mid-term election by an administration that has become prone to snap judgments and sloganeering (witness its latest call for $250 checks to seniors). If I were teaching Government 101, I’d be cheering the administration for giving me a superb example of pandering for votes and dough -- should get those corn belt votes. But wait, it gets more absurd.

In the tradition of government gone wild, it complicates things up. For example, use of E15 will only be allowed in model year 2007 and newer cars and light trucks. What about the rest, you wonder? According to EPA, a decision on E15 use in 2001 to 2006 vehicles will be made after results of additional testing, probably in December. EPA further states: “However, no waiver is being granted this year for E15 use in model year 2000 and older cars and light trucks – or in any motorcycles, heavy-duty vehicles, or non-road engines – because currently there is not testing data to support such a waiver.”

So, what we really have now is: (1) a partial waiver today; (2) a potential added partial waiver in another month or so; (3) EPA’s careful use of “this year” creating uncertainty about more waivers next year; and (4) a recipe for mass confusion.

How will consumers know what’s what, you ask? EPA wants to come up with a pump label! NMMA and MRAA have quickly denounced EPA’s action as certain to create widespread consumer confusion and dangers of misfueling. EPA has slated a public hearing on Nov. 16 in Chicago (10 a.m. - Knickerbocker Hotel) on the gas pump labeling issue. NMMA and MRAA say they’ll be there and each is also calling on its members to be there, too, to voice concerns about EPA’s approach.

On a positive note, EPA reportedly wants to include a requirement that the fuel industry specify the ethanol content of gasoline sold to retailers. It’s about time. Retailers I’ve talked to admit they really don’t know what’s being put into their tanks. Rightfully, that information should be posted for the retail customer, too.

Notably, the petition for EPA to allow this 50 percent increase in ethanol content was submitted by Growth Energy, a lobbying organization for 54 ethanol manufacturers. Early on, they acknowledged their goal was not a cleaner environment or reducing dependence on foreign oil. Rather, they were losing money making E10 due to decreased demand for gas in the nation. Growth Energy has intensely lobbied the administration for this waiver. Expect them to continue to push for wider usage.

Finally, influencing all this is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandated an increase in the amount of renewable fuels (ethanol is one) into the market, reaching a total of 36 billiion gallons by 2022. Is it time to push for modification of this enabling legislation? Politically speaking, is it even possible?


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