Chris Stewart, R-Utah, recenlty convened a hearing of the members of the Subcommittee on Environment of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee to discuss the sale of 15 percent blended ethanol fuels (E15), according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). Attended by several Republicans and two Democrats, the subcommittee heard testimony from a three-person witness panel regarding the possible engine and fuel system damage that will accompany the availability of E15 for 2001 and newer light duty vehicles.
Stewart began the hearing with a skeptical tone, stating: “Unfortunately, the more E15 is studied, the more concerns are identified. In addition to potential widespread impacts on vehicle engines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has led a haphazard transition to E15 usage marked by regulatory confusion, bungled implementation and a lack of consumer education.” His main concern being whether the sale of E15 is proper for vehicles right now, or whether evidence shows that more study is needed. Stewart added that, “As our witnesses today will testify, there is increasing evidence that American consumers may have to pay the price for EPA’s cart-before-the-horse approach to E15 science.”
The first witness, Robert Darbelnet, president and CEO, American Automobile Association (AAA), was tempered in his comments, noting that his organization is not against E15, but that, “AAA would support E15 gasoline coming to market, but only following complete and conclusive testing demonstrating it was safe for approved vehicles and once necessary consumer awareness and protections were put in place.” According to Darbelnet, AAA has attempted to work closely with EPA to educate consumers on the fuel blend and possible dangers, but the agency’s response has been lackluster. A survey by AAA indicates that 95 percent of consumers are not aware of E15 or the potential that its use might void their vehicle’s warranty.
The next witness, former Senator Wayne Allard, vice president, government relations, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), had significant concerns with EPA’s weak response to the issue of mis-fueling by consumers. Although EPA has not approved the sale of E15 for motorcycle or all-terrain engines, Allard testified that the AMA questioned EPA on how vehicle owners could prevent putting E15 into an engine not approved for the fuel. According to Allard, EPA initially responded by mandating that a minimum of four gallons of gas be purchased at a time from pumps dispensing E15. Although the agency eventually reversed this decision due to the backlash, AMA testified that it is still not satisfied with EPA’s current requirement that fueling stations have a separate E10/E0-only pump.
The most damaging witness was Mike Leister from the Coordinating Research Council (CRC) who called for further study of E15 before it was offered for sale. The CRC has performed studies which indicated that the use of E15 could cause major failures of fuel pumps at service stations, along with damage to vehicle engine systems, vehicle fueling systems and even potential damage to onboard diagnostic systems.
Following the hearing, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., I-05, introduced legislation to require further study of E15 in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences. As previously reported, Sens. Vitter and Wicker introduced legislation to block the sale of E15, as well.
Additional information on the hearing, including each witness’ testimony, can be found at: http://science.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-environment-mid-level-ethanol-blends-consumer-and-technical-research-needs
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