Ethanol decision raises questions
Regs would require fuel stations to have separate tanks, warnings for E15
By DAVE WILKINS
Charley Jones is a big supporter of biofuels.
He has long offered E10 (a 10 percent ethanol blend) at his gas stations across Idaho. A few years ago he even installed E85 pumps for flex fuel vehicles at a few stations.
But he doesn't want anything to do with E15 -- a 15 percent blend -- because the Environmental Protection Agency says it can only be used in vehicles that are year 2007 and newer.
That would require Jones and other fuel station owners to install separate tanks and put warning labels on E15 fuel pumps informing motorists not to use the higher ethanol blend in older vehicles.
"It's not an attractive option for us," Jones, president of Stinker Stores, said at a biofuels conference held Oct. 26 in Boise.
The EPA's decision clears the way for states to change fuel regulations to allow for the sale and distribution of E15.
The agency is expected to make a decision toward the end of the year whether to approve the use of E15 in cars and light-duty trucks model year 2001 to 2006.
The ethanol industry and some agriculture groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Corn Growers Association, were quick to praise the EPA's recent decision, but also called on the agency to expand usage of the higher blend to older vehicles.
Pacific Ethanol said its plans to reopen a plant in Stockton, Calif., was influenced in part by the E15 decision.
But unless the EPA clears E15 for use in older vehicles, it's doubtful many stations will carry it, industry officials contend.
Approval of E15 for 2007 and newer vehicles "will do little to move the needle and expand ethanol use today," Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen said in a news release.
According to the ethanol industry, scientific tests have demonstrated that E15 is safe and effective in all light duty vehicles, regardless of the date of manufacture.
John Crockett, senior energy specialist with the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, has experimented with different ethanol blends in his personal vehicles.
He owned a 1991 Toyota Previa that ran just fine on 40 percent ethanol, he said.
"I got essentially the same gas mileage with that as I did with E10," Crockett said in an interview.
The 10 percent cap on ethanol blends enacted during the Carter administration was somewhat arbitrary, Crockett said. He thinks most vehicles could safely handle much higher ethanol blends.
"I think the engine experts will tell you that 10 percent is not a very good blend," he said.
The livestock industry, meanwhile, is leery of the government's plans to expand ethanol usage because of the fear that it will divert even more corn to the ethanol market and further drive up feed costs.
About 37 percent of the U.S. corn crop is already diverted to the ethanol industry, said John Nalivka, of Sterling Marketing Inc. of Vale, Ore.
"That's huge," said Nalivka, chairman of the Idaho Cattle Association's marketing committee. "It drives up our cost of livestock production."