Supporters of EPA’s upcoming proposal to allow year-round use of gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol made their case on a call with reporters today, saying that the blend is safe, dependable, and cuts down on smog-forming tailpipe emissions.

The Renewable Fuels Association organized the call to respond to the oil industry’s continuing criticism of the Trump administration decision, announced earlier this month but not yet published in the Federal Register. RFA also reaffirmed its belief that EPA has the legal authority under the Renewable Fuel Standard to extend the Reid Vapor Pressure waiver to E15. The RVP is a common measure of the volatility of gasoline.

American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers, for example, said in a news release on Oct. 9, the same day President Donald Trump announced his E15 decision, that “the vast majority of cars on the road were not designed” to use E15. In addition, “Vehicle compatibility tests have shown that high ethanol levels in gasoline can damage engines and fuel systems.”

But those are “the same myths and misinformation that we’ve disproved time and time again,” RFA CEO Geoff Cooper said on the press call. Roughly 40 percent of the nation's corn crop is used to make ethanol. 

Cooper said that because of EPA’s 2011 decision to allow the use of E15 in all light-duty vehicles built in 2001 or later, more than 90 percent of cars and trucks on the road are legally approved to use the fuel. RFA released an analysis today showing that automakers have approved E15 for use in 93 percent of their 2019 models.

“General Motors, the first automaker to approve the use of E15, is listing E15 as an approved fuel for its vehicles for the eighth straight model year,” RFA said.

Gary Herwick, a consultant and former GM engineer who took part in an oil industry study of mid-level ethanol blends in 2010-11, said that study clearly shows that “there were no effects on vehicles of the model years we studied. That study was evaluated by EPA and others in their partial waiver decision in allowing it for use in 2001 and later model vehicles.”

Herwick said he's been burning E10 in his 1963 Chevrolet for years with no engine problems, and that the volatility of E10 and E15 is essentially the same, suggesting "there really isn't a basis for saying (E15) damages engines." 

He and another participant on the call, air quality expert Janet Yanowitz, said concerns that E15 will worsen air quality are unfounded. “I read stories where people are concerned about smog or ozone,” Yanowitz said. “There really is no evidence that E15 will increase tailpipe emissions” of nitrogen oxides or ozone-forming organic compounds, she said. In fact, emissions of NOx from E15 and E10 are about the same, she said, while emissions of organics and carbon monoxide would go down with use of E15, she said.

Matt Morrison, a lawyer with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and outside counsel to RFA, said EPA has the authority to extend the E10 waiver to use of E15, but that the agency has set an ambitious timeline that will be difficult to meet.

“Extending the waiver to E15 would be consistent with the language in the statute,” as well as with the legislative history of the RFS and Congress’ goals of promoting energy independence, Morrison said.

“E15 is in some ways superior” to E10, he said, citing higher octane, lower volatility and lower tailpipe emissions than E10.

Morrison said EPA’s plan to have a proposal in February and a final rule in May is “very ambitious,” considering the agency will have to accept and consider public comments.

“It could be a very tight race to the finish to make sure it’s done before ozone season,” he said. Cooper added that EPA “doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to get this done” before summer.

In response to statements from small engine manufacturers that E15 should not be used in equipment such as lawnmowers, Cooper said, “E15 is not an approved fuel for use in that equipment, but E10 is in virtually every case. Those sorts of statements are red herrings. No one is suggesting we should be putting E15 into equipment it’s not approved for.”

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