Congress and oil producers keep pressure on EPA over ethanol rules

June 13, 2013
Some automakers void warranties that use biofuels.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform recently held a hearing to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) position on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the concerns that EPA’s actions have had on consumers, the vehicle industry and farmers, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). Congress and oil producers continue to pressure the EPA on their decision regarding increasing the percentage of ethanol permitted in gasoline.

Specifically, witnesses at the hearing testified that there is concern among consumers because of the possible damage that E15 and other ethanol based fuels could do to their vehicles, AAIA noted. In addition, a number of car manufacturers say that they will void the warranty on vehicles that are using E15 or other biofuels.

According to Jack Gerard, president and CEO the American Petroleum Institute (API), the increase in ethanol requirements by EPA is creating a situation that is detrimental to the oil companies, as well as their consumers, AAIA noted. He said EPA must waive the RFS to relieve pressure from oil producers, which would either have to produce more ethanol mixed fuel, which car companies don’t want in their cars, or cut back on production of pure gas fuel to meet EPA standards, which would raise prices.

Christopher Grundler, the witness from EPA, tried to assure the committee that EPA is doing everything it can and running all the tests necessary to make the decision that will best serve the country and that biofuels are not as damaging as people believe, AAIA noted. While EPA is convinced that a slight increase in the amount of ethanol in gas from its current mark (E10 to E15) will not harm the vehicle, car makers are telling consumers to use it at their own risk. Certain vehicles are designed to run on fuel with higher ethanol concentration, but many drivers who don’t use these flex-fuel vehicles are still hesitant to use a product that could be potentially damaging.

Many committee members demanded to know from EPA why action isn’t currently being taken to address the concerns with the use of ethanol. Legislators pointed to the fact that, while EPA has the authority to waive the RFS if it’s believed to severely harm the environment of a state, region, or the U.S., the agency has yet to lay out a formal definition of “severely harm.” The committee questioned how EPA can take appropriate action with regard to ethanol without clearly defining what would be considered severe harm.

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