Whether you realize this or not, the fuel you’re putting in your car (assuming you live in the United States) is likely to be a blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol. Originally concocted to oxygenate fuel when MTBE was found to be hazardous, this E10 blend has been in use for years. The very fact that you don’t know you’re burning ethanol with your gasoline is a good thing; while some drivers report a slightly compromised fuel economy, most drivers report no issues at all. Bumping the ethanol content up to 15% should also be OK, right?
Not so fast, says a coalition of auto and powersport industry groups, who filed suit against the EPA on Monday. While E10 may not be harmful to boat engines, lawn equipment and automobiles, there haven’t been enough conclusive studies done on E15 to verify its effect on engines and fuel delivery systems. The group alleges that the EPA has not done enough to ensure that E15 is safe in cars manufactured prior to 2007, and further alleges that the EPA issue a “partial waiver” and deem E15 safe for new cars only. It’s not just the engine manufacturers who oppose E15, but also the gasoline retailers. No one knows if the E15 blend is safe to store in existing underground tanks, or if the blend will increase the potential for tank leakage. Additionally, many gasoline retailers operate a single tank for regular gas, one for premium and one for diesel. Adding an E15 blend, approved for 2007 and newer cars only, would require them to add an additional storage tank, a cost no one wants to bear.
What’s behind the EPA’s push to increase the ethanol content in fuel? Is it to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, or to reduce hydrocarbon emissions and cut pollution? As the New York Times reports, it’s nothing that grand. There’s simply a surplus of ethanol, and Congress is under pressure from lobbyists to reduce inventories. Sounds like the tail wagging the dog to me.