American Elephants

EPA’s At It Again. Mandated “Green” Fuel Will Damage Cars. by The Elephant's Child

AAA has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt sales of gasoline with higher ethanol concentrations, on Friday, contending the fuel blend causes engine damage not covered under most  auto warranties.

The EPA has been hellbent to get E15 ethanol blend into the nation’s gas pumps, despite warning cries from all sides. Cars from model year 2001 and later are supposedly able to handle E15 the fuel blend made up of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent petroleum. Automakers say that the EPA is only considering the fuel’s impact on emissions control systems while disregarding the impact on the rest of the vehicle.

AAA conducted a survey and found that 95% of people had never heard of E15, which means many innocents may improperly fill up with this gasoline and permanently damage their vehicle. The agency said that many automakers refuse to honor warranties for wear and tear from the higher ethanol fuel blend.

AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said “Bringing E15 to market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”

The Renewable Fuels Association accused AAA of acting as a conduit for oil firms. Bob Dinneen, the association;s CEO, said petroleum groups want to defeat E15 because it cuts into oil’s market share.

Getting E15 widely available on the market is a chief concern for biofuels groups. The industry must hit accelerating ethanol blending targets established by the renewable fuel standard, and doing so with 10 percent ethanol blends will likely be untenable after 21013.

Dinneen claimed that E15 is “the most aggressively and comprehensively tested fuel in the history of the EPA.” Uh huh.

GM spokesperson Sharon Basel said the EPA was being “irresponsible” by permitting the use of E15 without evaluating the fuel’s effects on the entire car. AAA noted that BMW. Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen do not cover damage from E15 under their warranties.  Ford, Honda, Hyundai Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 damage might void warranties according to AAA.

The EPA under Director Lisa Jackson has shown a tendency to barrel ahead with whatever they want to do, and never mind the consequences. Which has meant an unusual number of court appearances and court  slap-downs. Cut their budget drastically to keep them out of trouble.

18 Comments so far
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Once again, this is not the EPA’s enthusiasm for ethanol, but Congress — the EPA’s paymasters — twisting their arm. The EPA learned its lesson several years ago after it first rejected corn ethanol as meeting the requisite standards for CO2-emissions reductions (20% reduction in life-cycle emissions compared with gasoline). Corn Belt senators threatened to gut the EPA’s funding, so they went back and found a way to make corn ethanol squeak by, at 21%. This time, the EPA is well-trained: once bitten, twice shy.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Subisidy, it does no good to rail against me for hating the EPA instead of Sen. Grassley. I dislike the EPA much more than Grassley and want to see the agency abolished. Your comments would do more good sent to Congress. :>)

Comment by The Elephant's Child

And it would be more honest if you railed against some action that was totally EPA generated. Anything and everything the EPA does on biofuels is directed by Congress. It is like condemning the slave for what his master orders him to do.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

And, Subsidy, it would be honest of you to note that Lisa Jackson is ENTIRELY a creature of “green”. This is an action that she would have pushed for regardless of what Congress has to say (and, in fact, the trend among Congressmen and Senators is to do away with the ethanol subsidy, a movement that has been building for some time). Jackson and her soul-mates, Chu at Energy and Salazar at Interior, have all gone on the record as wanting to increase the use of biofuels, regardless of whether or not the vehicles can tolerate them.

So despite your assertion that Jackson and the EPA are only responding to the “direction” of Congress, Jackson is willing to go farther.

And this, supposedly, is the administration that is interested in “science”, and being “pragmatic”. In four years, they’ve shown no evidence of either.

Comment by Lon Mead


I don’t know Lisa Jackson, so it would have been dishonest of me to speculate on her motives.

Your claim that the EPA is going further than what Congress asked for (and see above as to what that means for the EPA) is also contrary to the facts:

The ethanol industry needed something to make up for the loss of its subsidies, so it persuaded Congress that a 15% ethanol blend would lower pump prices and reduce America’s dependence on imported oil.

If Lisa Jackson personally agrees with pushing for 15% ethanol in the nation’s gas tanks then it is because of her own personal ambitions, not because of any “greenness” on her part. Same with Chu and Salazar. (Did I ever say I liked Salazar?) By the way, you forgot the biggest ethanol head of all, USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack. Obama’s support for ethanol, which has been constant since he was an Illinois Senator, is pure farm politics.

There are four constituencies that are opposing expanded use of ethanol: (1) livestock farmers; (2) food companies; (3) environmentalists; and (4) people who oppose government interference in the market for motor fuels.

It is really insulting to the environmental movement that you two continue to equate support for ethanol with “greenness”, especially given all the effort environmentalists — both individually and through groups such as Friends of the Earth — have done to lobby against ethanol. Either you two refuse to look into this issue any deeper, or you are intentionally ignoring the facts because they don’t conform to your narrative.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Not denying that there are elements of the environmental movement that are against ethanol (limited kudos for them, in fact).

You seem to be wanting to separate the agenda of the EPA with that of Lisa Jackson. This has nothing to do with “knowing her personally”… it has to do with the fact that, like so many executive branch agencies, the EPA agenda is directly tied to whomever is in charge of it at the time (I know several people who work for the EPA, including an aunt who has worked there for 26 years). Regardless of your claim that it’s the ethanol lobby pushing for this, the EPA does nothing like this without out the approval of Lisa Jackson.

Comment by Lon Mead


I think we are getting closer to agreement: “… the EPA does nothing like this without out the approval of Lisa Jackson.” That can only be true.

My point, though, is that Jackson and the EPA aren’t given much choice. The EPA was instructed by Congress in the last (2008) Farm Bill to study the feasibility of increasing the share of ethanol in the nation’s gasoline. They dutifully did a study and concluded that it could be used safely, but only in late-model vehicles. When it became clear, in 2011, that the ethanol subsidy would not be extended after it expired on December 31, 2011, the industry worked out a deal with the farm-state senators to force the EPA to approve the sale of E15 with only warning labels on the pumps.

All in all it was quite clever of the farm-state politicos to put the EPA in charge of administering federal ethanol policy.The effect of that, of course, was to neutralize an agency that might otherwise have put up resistance to such shenanigans.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

“My point, though, is that Jackson and the EPA aren’t given much choice.”

They have all the choice in the world. However much you may claim that “farm-state politicos” would gut EPA funding if the EPA didn’t do their bidding, that’s nothing more than a conspiracy theory. If Jackson was actually interested in following the science on the matter, she would listen to the engineers from the auto industry and environmental scientists, and make her decision accordingly. As it is, she is IGNORING the science, ignoring the economic concerns, ignoring pretty much everything that runs counter to her own agenda and that of the Obama administration (which has its own war on fossil fuels).

You seem to be following a pattern that is prevalent throughout this administration… trying to find a way that they are not at fault (“farm-belt politicos” and the ethanol lobby are to blame!) rather than admitting that there is ANY fault or culpability on the part of the administration or its agencies.

Comment by Lon Mead

Nothing more than a conspiracy theory? I follow developments in this policy arena pretty closely. Clearly you don’t. The deliberations on getting corn ethanol classified as meeting the sustainability standards Congress established under the 2007 Energy Bill were not edifying for either Congress or the EPA. I don’t have time to look back into the archives, but if you are near a library with subscriptions to energy policy newsletters you can read all about it.

In this report from the Congressional Research Service, you have to read between the lines to suss out what was going on:

EPA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on May 26, 2009, for the RFS with suggested methodology for the lifecycle emissions analysis. EPA issued a final rule on February 3, 2010. The final rule includes EPA’s methodology for determining lifecycle emissions, as well as the agency’s estimates for the emissions from various fuels. In its proposed rule, EPA found that many fuel pathways did not meet the threshold requirements in EISA. However, its methodology was criticized by biofuels supporters. In the final rule, EPA modified its methodology to reflect some of those comments. However, some biofuels opponents counter that the final rules went too far in the opposite direction. In most cases, estimated emissions decreased (i.e., emissions reductions increased), leading to more favorable treatment of biofuels in the final rule. Because of the ongoing debate on the lifecycle emissions from biofuels, … there is growing congressional interest in the topic. Congressional action could take the form of oversight of EPA’s rulemaking process

[my emphasis]

In the case of approving E15, the EPA did not ignore science in concluding that the blended fuel was safe to use in recently built cars. I was not aware that the car companies are contesting that finding.

What the car companies are worried about, and rightly so, is that people with older cars will make mistakes, put E15 into cars that can’t handle the fuel, and then sue the auto makers.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

“GM spokesperson Sharon Basel said the EPA was being ‘irresponsible’ by permitting the use of E15 without evaluating the fuel’s effects on the entire car.”

The EPA must have checked the whole fuel chain within the car. Do either of you know what GM thinks they left out when they say that the EPA did not evaluate “the fuel’s effects on the entire car.” It’s effects on the seat belts? On the rear-view mirror?

“AAA noted that BMW. Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen do not cover damage from E15 under their warranties. Ford, Honda, Hyundai Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 damage might void warranties according to AAA.”

I think this is where Congress made a mistake in pushing this decision onto the EPA. The EPA can test all it wants to gauge the technical effects of ethanol on cars. But the issue of car warranties should not be something it should get involved in; yet Congress has made it get involved in this area.

If any agency should be involved, it should be the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

The NHTSA is involved in the process… it’s currently agreeing with the auto manufacturers. And as far as “the fuel’s effects on the entire car”, the EPA is only interested in (and only checked) the emissions. They did not check the the effect of E-15 on the fuel systems, the fuel tank, the combustion chamber, or even the long-term effects on catalytic converters (E-10 already is responsible for a higher rate of fuel system failure and corrosion damage to combustion chambers and catalytic converters because of residual sugars and water left in the system, as well as the higher combustion temperatures. E-15 will only accelerate this problem).

I follow developments in this policy arena closely enough to know that the decisions currently being made by the EPA are running counter to the known science and the policy recommendations of the people who know the engineering and environmental details.

Comment by Lon Mead

From what I see here:

The EPA only ruled on whether or not the request from the biofuel-producer associations met their emissions tests.

If the NHTSA is involved in the process, is it they who rule on the safety of the fuel in the vehicles themselves?

If so, why is everybody blaming the EPA for approving E15 from the standpoint of emissions?

Comment by Subsidy Eye

The NHTSA can only make recommendations at this point, and yes, fuel safety is one of their concerns. But the NHTSA would rather wait until all of the research is done, and in the case of fuels, will usually listen to the recommendations of the automobile manufacturers. Everybody is blaming the EPA because the EPA is ignoring everybody.

Prediction: The EPA is going to lean on either BP or Shell (probably both) to have E15 at their pumps before the end of the year, with the first series of engine failures occurring soon after, and the first round of lawsuits of auto manufacturer vs. oil company soon after that.

Comment by Lon Mead

If they are only required to assess emissions, what aspect of that question is the EPA ignoring?

Can you point me to some evidence that they are actively lobbying for E15? That would change my opinion on this matter.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

You know, for someone who “follow(s) developments in this policy arena pretty closely”, you seem to keep missing the picture.

The EPA has regulatory and enforcement authority. They are not lobbying anyone. A decision has been made at the EPA to move forward with the E15 protocols. Once this regulation gets written, the EPA will begin to enforce it. These regulations have the force of federal law behind them. There is no congressional oversight to this process. The EPA under Lisa Jackson is ignoring all calls for restraint, or hearings, or review of the materials. The only person the head of the EPA answers to is the President. And Obama has shown zero interest in stopping (or even slowing) any of this.

Do you understand now? The EPA is acting unilaterally on this… because they can. Period.

Comment by Lon Mead

Again, approving what the EPA has been asked to rule on is not the same as actively promoting the fuel. While the rest of us might like ethanol to be stopped dead in its tracks (and I suspect many staff within the EPA feel that way, too), the EPA has felt the sting of crossing the ethanol lobby before. They have to have a good, very strong scientific reason for refusing to allow E15 to be used. If all they can rule on is the emissions, then how can they say, “Well, even though the emissions with E15 meet our standards, there are lots of other problems with the fuel, most fundamentally because the car-makers say using more than E10 will void their warranties, so we will ignore our own results and stop the whole process right now.”

Sounds as if it is Congress that is at fault for not creating a proper, full, evaluation procedure, not the EPA.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

Yea! On Friday a federal appeals court threw out a federal rule on renewable fuels , saying that a quota set by the EPA for incorporating liquids made from woody crops and wastes into car and truck fuels was based on wishful thinking rather than realistic estimates of what could be achieved.

Comment by Subsidy Eye

I saw that late yesterday. The biofuels don’t exist. That’s never stopped the EPA before. Chris Horner has forced Lisa Jackson out with the exposure of the secret email account, but so far he hasn’t gotten full access as ordered under FOIA. It’s a truly crooked agency, and they’ve been slapped down pretty frequently by the courts.

It won’t get reformed under this president. He’ll probably find someone worse that Jackson. Loyalty and assurance that they will carry out Obama’s goals seem to be the key to his new nominees, none qualified for the jobs to which they are nominated, and some so unqualified that it is scary. Jack Lew as Sec. of Treasury? Unbelievable. I expect an attempt at cap-and-trade from the EPA, and either the EPA or the President will again block the Keystone XL on some excuse. This decision reads like a very well reasoned one.

Comment by The Elephant's Child

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