EPA Tells Drivers E15 Won't Kill Your Car As Automakers Howl

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Proposed EPA E15 gasoline pump warning label for ethanol content

Proposed EPA E15 gasoline pump warning label for ethanol content

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Ah, ethanol, that most political of alternative fuels.

Farmers love it, deficit hawks hate it, automakers want it for flex-fuel CAFE credits but nowhere else, and environmentalists only want it if it doesn't suck up food supplies, use too much water, or worsen the carbon balance.

Yesterday, EPA officials came out swinging against a hale of criticism from carmakers and Senators over the impending arrival of E15 gasoline.

What IS "science-based"?

The director of the agency's office of transportation and air quality, Margo Oge, stressed the EPA's extensive research into any potential impacts of using E15. Their studies found "no unusual damage," she said, when tested against the same vehicles running on standard gasoline.

Sarah Palin takes aim at ethanol subsidies

Sarah Palin takes aim at ethanol subsidies

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At a hearing yesterday, House Republicans who control the science, space, and technology subcommittee criticized the decision anyway.

Representative Andrew Harris (R-MD) insisted the EPA's waiver permitting sales of E15 was not a "science-based" decision. (Harris did not define the standards he would deem to be scientific.)

Representatives referred often to letters sent Tuesday by 12 automakers to the EPA, which warned that using E15 in vehicles not designed for it may damage engines, void vehicle warranties, and lower gas mileage.

The last is undoubtedly true; pure ethanol has less energy per volume than pure gasoline, so a gallon of E15 gasoline has 3.4 percent less energy than one of E10 (the standard for gasoline since 1978).

Minimal damage vs. doom and gloom

It's less clear that E15 will damage engines; a study by Ricardo showed "minimal damage" even to cars built before 2000.

Automakers have produced relatively little data showing any E15 engine damage, recommending that the matter be further studied.

Their fears are understandable; drivers are unlikely to blame the EPA for any problems with E15, but will instead point to the company that built the car.

So, last December, automakers sued to stop the rollout of E15. Then in February, the House voted to block that rollout as well.

The EPA is moving forward regardless; it has just issued warning label designs to highlight pumps that contain E15. It's meant to warn drivers who fill up that the new blend of gasoline is to be used in cars built in 2001 or later.

Read the pump label

What's a driver to do amidst all the yelling? Most likely, you won't have to do anything right away.

It's going to take time to roll out even the earliest "blender pumps" that can provide either E10 or E15 on demand.

And with a possible Senate agreement to kill ethanol subsidies, there may not be enough ethanol to boost the amount in gasoline.

The E15 issue will generate more heat and noise before it all gets resolved, if it does.

But what do you think? If it cost the same, would you use E15 in your car, if it's from 2001 or newer?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

[Detroit News, Bloomberg]


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Comments (11)
  1. In a sense, the issue is moot. Ethanol, that farmer friendly, mass starvation friendly product that makes everything eaten (well almost everything) cost a whole
    lot more is living on borrowed time. Anything the EPA does can be considered incompetent, based on their previous history - just take a look at the brainless manner that they have dealt with determination EV "mileages." EPA studies have been very short term - ethanol and like additives often produce deterioration of fuel insulators, something that isn't going to show up in the EPA's "scientific" but invald tests. I notice that the EPA is not willing to back up their words and cover any problems their new rule causes. The govt never takes responsibility
    for anything they do. Ever.

  2. Ramon: I'm curious. You're a frequent commenter on this site, which we appreciate. But your posts have been almost entirely negative. You seem to be angry about a lot of things relating to green cars, California, national and state government, and many other topics. What gives?

  3. @John, I was thinking the same thing all Ramon does is bash bash bash. Ramon you seem to have no interest in these cars so why bother? I like European cars an EVs but I'd never go on a muscle car website and start trashing muscle cars.

  4. "...If it cost the same, would you use E15 in your car, if it's from 2001 or newer?"
    Absolutely NOT. Why? It's not because I have a hatred for ethanol. Quite the opposite. I am OK with ethanol and actually want to see the spread of higher ethanol concentrations like E15 and E85.

    But ethanol has a lower energy density than gasoline. Thus a gallon of E15 won't push my vehicle down the road as far as E10. So the price for E15 should be LOWER than E10 to make it worth buying. And since it has the side-effect of having slightly less fuel efficiency which means more frequent stops at the gas station, the price is going to need to be that much lower to make it worth my time. Make my Mile/$ cheaper with E15, and I'll gladly switch over.

  5. BTW, that's a terrible picture of Sarah. Was that intentional?

  6. Damn the politicians for trying to please the tree-huggers. Using a food product to extend the supply of hydrocarbon fuel is nuts. If the environmentalists would get out of the way, the US could use plenty of petroleum and natural gas, and nuclear-fueled electricity. The EPA was meant to clear up the lakes (recall being able to walk across Lake Erie?) and the smoggy skys of coastal cities. Time to cut their budget majorly.

  7. Carl, try clicking the post reply button.

  8. John - do not beat up on Ramon for being like many of the Tea Party Nation. We are fed up with too much government interference - and I say that as one who worked diligently on both sides. Gov projects ratchet upward even after the initial role is completed.

  9. Chris - the use of corn based ethanol to extend the supply of fuel has a hidden cost. Food prices are rising world wide. You may not need your corn flakes for breakfast. Billions of people and animals do.

  10. Animals eat the corn after the ethanol is removed.

  11. Interesting to note my 2011 Ford Fiesta explicitly notes on the filling tube to *not* use E15.. Hmm.

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