E15: Going Overboard

01Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS introduced legislation, S 344,  with Sen. David Vitter, R-La  to reverse an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that would lead to an increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline.  The legislation would prohibit the EPA from allowing gasoline blends with 15% ethanol (E15), to be used in pasenger cars and trucks and repeal two waivers the EPA issued for the use of E15 in vehicles manufactured after 2000.

Higher ethanol fuel blends (like E15 and E85) have less energy content than regular gasoline,  deliver lower fuel economy,  cost consumers more at the pump and are  corrosive when used in most automobiles, meaning they can harm engines and compromise vehicle performance.

According to Popular Mechanics ethanol is fairly corrosive to rubber and certain metals, so it can cause damage to vital components. Ethanol also attracts and bonds with water from the air, and that water can separate out inside the tank due to phase separation.  If your vehicle sits for long periods between use, the moisture settles to the bottom of the tank and can potentially clog in-tank pumps and filters. Damage is also possible in fuel lines, injectors, seals, gaskets, and valve seats as well as carburetors on older engines.

Last year, AAA raised these concerns  and urged the  Obama Administration and gasoline retailers to stop the sale of E15.   The trusted auto club called for more testing and consumer education, warning that the use of E15 could lead to voided vehicle warranties.   Of course the enviro Nazis and the ethanol industry accused AAA of distorting the facts.  But the facts are that only 12 million of more than 240 million cars, trucks and SUVs now in use have manufacturers’ approval for E15.   2012 and newer Flex-fuel vehicles, most Government Motors vehicles, 2013 Fords and 2001 later model Porsche’s are the exceptions.

BMW, Chrysler,  Ford, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and VW, and Volvo have said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15,  citing potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and other engine components.  Toyota and Lexus have even placed warning labels on gas caps, along with instructions in the owner’s manual not to use E15.

Ethanol contains 33% less energy  per gallon than gasoline, and vehicles fueled with ethanol cover fewer miles per gallon than those running on conventional gasoline meaning that you must fill up more frequently.

Some ethanol blends should not be used on certain engines and motors at all.    E15 is not appropriate for heavy-duty vehicles, or vehicles built before 2000, nor is it fit for boats and small motors, including those in lawnmowers and chainsaws.  Intermediate blends may also cause some non-road engines and motors to run at higher temperatures and experience unintentional clutch engagement, according to a GAO study.

Generally, small engines are not designed to deal with the more corrosive E15 blend.   Ethanol forms a brown goo when left in a fuel tank too long, which can clog fuel-system components.   Two-stroke engines run hotter with an ethanol blend, which accelerates the potential damage. And ethanol can wreak havoc on fiberglass fuel tanks in older boats.  Groups like the National Marine Manufacturers Association and Outdoor Power Equipment Institute have issued strong warnings to consumers to pay attention to their fuels or risk severe engine damage.  Use a fuel stabilizer if the engine will sit for more than a few weeks without use; this will reduce the ethanol–water separation and potential gumming issues.

A study from the Coordinating Research Council,  commissioned by U.S. automakers and oil companies, found that 25 percent of cars approved by the EPA to run on E15 experienced engine damage—and even failure.   The study estimates that at least 5 million cars currently on the road have similar characteristics to the cars that failed as part of the study.

An American Petroleum Institute  study of E15  “identified an elevated incidence of fuel pump failures, fuel system component swelling, and impairment of fuel measurement systems in some of the vehicles tested.  E15 could cause erratic and misleading fuel gauge readings or cause faulty check engine light illuminations. It also could cause critical components to break and stop fuel flow to the engine. Failure of these components could result in breakdowns that leave consumers stranded on busy roads and highways. Fuel system component problems did not develop in the CRC tests when either E10 or E0 was used. It is difficult to precisely calculate how many vehicles E15 could harm. That depends on how widely it is used and other factors. But, given the kinds of vehicles tested, it is safe to say that millions could be impacted.”

Higher Grocery Bills

It is important to recognize that the impact of EPA’s push to increase ethanol quantities in gasoline goes far beyond the fuel market.  A large percentage of the ethanol blended in gasoline comes from corn, which means corn prices may rise as demand for ethanol rises.  Higher corn prices lead to higher costs for livestock and poultry producers, who rely on corn feed.  In turn, American families face higher bills at the grocery store.

We saw during last year’s drought the devastating impact that severe weather can have on America’s corn crop, of which about 40 percent is devoted to ethanol production.   Because America is the world’s leading corn producer and exporter, the effect was felt across the globe.   A 2005 federal mandate implemented a floor on the volume of ethanol that must be included in the United States’ gasoline supply.  This volume increases annually.

A truly “all-of-the-above” approach should utilize all types of energy, from renewable resources to oil and natural gas.  And yet, sensible policies must be in place to ensure that Americans reap the benefits without bearing unnecessary costs.    Studies have questioned ethanol’s impact on energy independence.  Even onetime supporters, like former Vice President Al Gore, have acknowledged its shortcomings.

Prohibiting E15 waivers is one way to curb EPA’s misguided overreach.  Ethanol’s costs and consequences should be fully understood before far-reaching rules take effect.  Instead of hurting consumers, America’s energy policy should promote efficiency and value.

The only way to stop the EPA overreach is to demand your Senator support Wicker’s bill.

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