Clean energy? EPA says not so fast on ethanol

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 18 – Just two days after President Barack Obama told the nation about the urgent need to move toward energy independence and a “clean energy” future, his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is once again delaying an announcement to allow higher ethanol blends.

In response to a waiver filed by Growth Energy in March of 2009, the agency was required to respond in December of last year. However, they informed the ethanol group on Dec. 1, 2009 that they were delaying the decision until the U.S. Department of Energy completed their own studies on the impact of moving from E10 to E15. EPA made a promise in writing that the decision would be made by the middle of this year.

However, in a statement released by the EPA June 17, the agency not only confirmed another delay, but signaled that the decision would only apply to newer vehicles:

“The Department of Energy (DOE) is on track to complete testing designed to determine the impact of higher ethanol blends on vehicles built after 2007 by the end of September. DOE is also testing some vehicles built before 2007 and is also testing tanks and other fuel handling equipment to see how they might be affected by E15. While results from the tests conducted to-date look good, EPA will not make a final decision until DOE completes its current comprehensive testing of the newer vehicles. EPA is taking steps to ensure the appropriate pieces are in place should the results of the complete set of tests be positive. Based on DOE's schedule, EPA believes it will be able to make a final determination on whether to approve the use of higher ethanol blends this fall.”

In a letter sent to President Obama yesterday, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis described the delay as “unacceptable.”

“The fact that the federal agencies involved here cannot meet their own deadlines – on a decision that means so much to our nation – reinforces a public perception that government bureaucracy does not work in the best interests of the public,” he wrote. “Approval of our waiver would create more than 136,000 new jobs in the U.S., reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 7 billion gallons, reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 10.5 million cars from the road, and revitalize our rural communities.”

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) also criticized the EPA decision.

“EPA is dropping the ball, and for no scientifically justified reason,” said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “While initial plans to approve the use of E15 for only 2001 and newer vehicles were bad, this plan borders on shameful. Confusing the market as EPA seems intent upon doing likely will lead to little if any additional ethanol being sold.”

“Equally frustrating as the current plan is EPA’s failure to consider calls to immediately approve the use of 12 percent ethanol blends,” pointed out Dinneen. “Existing oxygenate stacking rules would allow for it.”

In the past, EPA officials have signaled that it will raise the blend limit to help meet a congressional mandate for increased use of biofuels. In the Renewable Fuels Standard, refiners will be required to blend 12.9 billion gallons of biofuels in 2010, of which 12 billion gallons would be ethanol. By 2022, that mandate soars to 36 billion gallons. However, some environmental and interest groups representing engine manufacturers continue to object to higher amounts of ethanol in fuel.

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