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Group Calls for 'Greener' Gas

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ft. Collins Coloradoan, David Young

Published March 11, 2009

A group of America's ethanol producers dedicated to furthering the nation's economy through cleaner, "greener" energy has called upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to raise the limit on ethanol blended in gasoline.

Currently, the EPA's limit on blends for standard fuel pumps is 10 percent, E10. Growth Energy petitioned the EPA on Friday to raise that limit to 15 percent, E15.

Growth Energy is composed of American ethanol producers and other organizations in the industry, like Steve McNinch, CEO of Western Plains Energy LLC.

McNinch said the move to E15 is the first step in complying with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which calls for 36 billion gallons of ethanol by the year 2022. Under the renewable fuel standard, the act also promotes the development of cellulose ethanol, a type of alternative fuel made from breaking down the woody bits of plants, such as switchgrass, by requiring 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels by 2022.

"It's the first steps in complying with legislation that is already out there," McNinch said. "In our opinion, it reiterates our country's commitment to removing our dependence from oil."

McNinch, who represents northwest Kansas, dubs the move a stimulus plan for the country that doesn't require Congress.

Unlike E85 pumps, which less than 1 percent of gas stations in the country have, E15 would be supported by all pumps if the limit were raised, McNinch said.

Growth Energy released a report Wednesday stating increased ethanol usage in existing automobiles can generate more than $24 billion for the economy and create more than 130,000 new jobs.

Those numbers increased even more if the cap was increased from 10 percent to 20 percent. The study was conducted by a group of current and former faculty of North Dakota State University.

Thus far, the EPA has responded saying it will consider the information.

"We will review the waiver and act based on the best available science," said Adora Andy, press secretary for the EPA in a prepared statement.

Not everyone agrees that raising the ethanol blend to E15 will have a positive impact on the environment and economy.

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Jonathan Lewis, attorney with the Clean Air Task Force, said he is concerned by Growth Energy's request for E15 because of the implications it might have on the climate and global warming.

CATF is a Boston-based nonprofit organization founded in 1996 dedicated to restoring clean air through scientific research, legal advocacy and public education.

Lewis said he is concerned new policies for biofuels could undermine the current emissions tests in place, thus creating a new generation of biofuels that could adversely impact the environment and the public's health.

"Building a future economy based on renewable energy is absolutely critical to our country and our children. We need to overhaul our biofuels policies now to rescue any hope that sustainable biofuels will be part of that future," said Craig Cox, Midwest vice president for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group formed in 1993 to protect public health and the environment.

Cox said the first step in overhauling the biofuels industry is eliminating federal government support and looking at ethanol through an energy-policy lens rather than an agriculture lens. He said the EPA needs to examine closely Growth Energy's request for E15 blends while adhering to the clean-air act.

For Northern Colorado, it is unclear how E15 would impact the market.

Dave Freeman, manager of risk and marketing with AgLand Incorporated, said it is very important the nation come up with a secure domestic energy policy.

However, Freeman has no opinion on E10 versus E15. He said were E15 to be implemented, it would be positive for the corn growers in the region.

"Corn makes sense in the short term; in the long run, it has some issues," Freeman said, noting water issues and the carbon footprint of ethanol as a couple issues.

AgLand has two E85 stations in Weld County, and Freeman said ethanol is good for the environment, their stakeholders and the county.

"Ultimately it's the EPA's issue to decide; we hope they will not look just at the issue of can it be done, but the impact on air pollution and climate," said Lewis, who noted the ethanol market is susceptible to dramatic swings and isn't the best base for economic recovery.

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Growth Energy's report says otherwise. According to retired Gen. Wesley Clark, co-chairman of Growth Energy, increasing the blend up to E15 would create 136,101 new jobs and inject $24.4 billion into the American economy annually.

"Increasing the ethanol blend up to E15 is a common-sense solution to our economic, energy and environmental challenges. Thirty years ago, the EPA allowed the 10 percent blend based on much less scientific evidence than we have today, and we now have years of driving experience showing that our cars' performance is not affected," said Clark in a prepared statement. "Raising the cap up to E15 is supported by sound science. If the EPA acts swiftly, a higher blend of ethanol will help us jump-start the economy while further reducing our dependence on foreign oil. I hope the EPA will approve this request expeditiously."

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