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EPA Misfires on New Misfueling Rule

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WASHINGTON – For three decades, the politically well-connected corn ethanol industry has been able to harness government support without much thought to the fuel’s harm to health, the environment and engines. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a final rule that attempts to keep consumers from using too high of an ethanol blend in their cars, trucks and small and off-road engines.

Most gasoline currently sold in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol (E10), and the Environmental Working Group has consistently opposed EPA’s decisions over the last eight months to allow 15 percent blends (E15) into the fuel supply, as Growth Energy, the ethanol trade group, has requested. EPA’s most recent decision in January allowed E15 to be used in vehicles manufactured in 2001 or later – even though half of vehicles made between 2001 and 2006 failed at least one of the agency’s emissions tests.

In response to EPA’s January decision, EWG recommended that the agency, at a minimum, require all gasoline pumps dispensing ethanol to display clear, consistent and detailed labels to ensure that consumers are fully informed not only about their fuel choices but also about the consequences of using the wrong blend. The Renewable Fuels Association, another industry group, takes the opposite view, acknowledging that, “for years, the ethanol industry has worked to take labels off from gasoline pumps.”

“A label can only do so much to protect consumers from the hazards of misfueling with E15 and won’t prevent a wave of voided vehicle warranties when vehicles are misfueled,” said Sheila Karpf, legislative and policy analyst at EWG. “It’s unfortunate that the Obama administration, in a rush to placate the corn ethanol lobby, is going to hurt consumers and ultimately taxpayers, who will be forced to address the damage done by our misguided ethanol policy.”

The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers and Association of International Automobile Manufacturers have not only opposed EPA’s E15 waiver but are also suing EPA over this issue. When EWG asked 13 domestic and foreign car companies if E15 is compatible with their Model Year 2001 and later vehicles, representatives of most of them said they never heard of the fuel and either punted warranty questions to local dealers or simply suggested that consumers check their owner’s manuals or use a high-octane blend. Four companies confirmed that their warranties would be voided if vehicle problems were traced to using E15. 

Several gasoline companies, including QuickTrip, Valero Energy Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., and Tesoro Corp., have ruled out selling E15 for the foreseeable future. AAA and the Coast Guard have warned consumers about potential problems caused by E15 use.

Scientific research has shown that using E15 may result in the following safety, health and engine problems:

  • Higher levels of emissions of toxins such as volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and nitrous oxide, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde;
  • Potential misfueling of older vehicles and small and off-road engines such as outboard motors, chainsaws and lawnmowers;
  • Corroded engine parts, storage tanks, gasoline pumps and hoses;
  • Ethanol leaks from existing infrastructure contaminating water supplies;
  • More engine stalling, misfiring, overheating and degradation of emission control systems;
  • Lower gas mileage due to less energy content in ethanol;
  • Voided warranties;
  • Potential engine damage or failure.

 

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment and can be found at www.ewg.org.

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