Delay in ethanol decision disappoints industry

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press The Pacific Ethanol plant at Burley, Idaho, could reopen in early 2010. Its revival comes as the ethanol industry is pushing for higher ethanol content in gasoline blends.

EPA may be considering higher blend only for later-model vehicles

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The ethanol industry has reacted with disappointment to the recent announcement that the federal government will wait until next summer before deciding whether to allow an increase in ethanol blends.

The Environment Protection Agency said Dec. 1 that it intends to make a final decision in mid-2010 whether to allow as much as 15 percent ethanol in gasoline blends.

The ethanol industry has been pushing for the government to allow blends of E15 ethanol -- fuel with 15 percent ethanol -- up from the 10 percent blends now allowed.

Industry officials also expressed disappointment that the EPA is apparently considering E15 blends only for vehicles that are model year 2001 and newer.

"Nowhere in previous public statements has EPA detailed any rationale for such a limitation," Robert Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said in a Dec. 3 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

"All of the data of which we are aware demonstrates no adverse effects of higher level blends in any vehicles, regardless their vintage," Dinneen said.

Research the association conducted in Minnesota showed no adverse effects from using 20 percent ethanol blends in the older vehicles tested, he said.

Limiting E15 blends to later-model vehicles would effectively limit their use to about 60 percent of American passenger cars and light trucks now on the road, Dinneen said.

The increase in potential new market demand for ethanol would be about 4.2 billion gallons, compared with an estimated market increase of 7 billion gallons for a full E15 implementation, he said.

Limiting E15 use to later-model vehicles would could create burdensome requirements for fuel retailers and confusion for consumers, Dinneen said.

"It is unlikely that retailers would be willing to offer both an E15 blend for newer vehicles and E10 or less for older models," he said in the letter. "This scenario could effectively result in no increase in ethanol use, despite an approval of higher level blends."

In March, 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 the association on Dec. 1, the EPA said 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.

The drive for higher ethanol levels comes as the industry is showing renewed signs of life.

Pacific Ethanol, which idled its Burley, Idaho, plant in 2009, has been advertising for workers in anticipation of reopening early next year.

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