By DAVE WILKINS
The ethanol industry is fuming over another delay in a federal decision on whether to allow higher blends of the renewable fuel.
The Environmental Protection Agency was expected to decide this month whether to allow the sale of E15 -- a gasoline blend containing 15 percent ethanol.
Existing federal regulations limit ethanol content to 10 percent in fuel sold for use in non-flex fuel vehicles.
But EPA officials said testing of higher ethanol blends hasn't been progressing as rapidly as they hoped, and it will likely be later this fall before a decision is made.
The government has been testing higher ethanol blends on newer model vehicles only, and the EPA is expected to approve E15 only for model year 2001 vehicles or newer.
"EPA has done no testing on older vehicles. They don't know whether it will work on vehicles older than that," Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, said in an interview.
Hartwig said the association's own research indicates that E15 would work fine in older vehicles, too.
Limiting E15 usage to newer vehicles will lead to confusion for motorists and an inconvenience for gas station operators, Hartwig said.
"It creates a great deal of uncertainty in the marketplace," he said.
RFA President Bob Dinneen said there's no scientifically justified reason for the EPA's latest delay in approving E15.
"We think this is EPA being derelict in its duty," he said. "EPA needs to stop this nonsense, make E15 available for all vehicles ... and get over this."
Allowing up to E15 blends would mean a potential increase of 6.5 billion gallons of new ethanol demand, RFA officials said.
In March 2009, Growth Energy, a biofuels industry association, requested a waiver to allow the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline.
In a letter to Growth Energy on Dec. 1, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said that not all tests have been completed, but the results of two tests indicate that engines in newer cars likely can handle an ethanol blend higher than 10 percent.
If the test results remain supportive, the agency would be in a position to approve E15 for model year 2001 and newer vehicles by this summer, McCarthy said in December.