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Supreme Court Won't Reverse EPA E15 Ethanol Rules

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Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court of the United States

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The U.S. Supreme Court has been slow to rule on many of the biggest cases on this year's docket. Maybe that's because some of the justices are prone to procrastination, or maybe, like seasoned TV scriptwriters, they're just playing America like a violin, getting us all worked up for a rousing finale.

This week, however, we've entered the homestretch, and key decisions are finally beginning to roll out. One of those arrived yesterday, when the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear appeals from trade groups opposed to E15 gasoline. That was a disappointment to many automakers, fuel companies, and car fans. 

HOW WE GOT HERE

As we've discussed before, ethanol standards got a shot in the arm back in 2007, when then-President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law. (Insomniacs can pore over a PDF of that document here.) Part of the Act stipulated that refineries had to use increasingly greater quantities of biofuels like ethanol in the production of gasoline.

Although that might sound awesome to green car fans, there are some downsides. For starters, E15 -- which uses 15% ethanol -- isn't as potent a brew as the current E10 blend, much less pure gasoline. As a result, it'll likely put a dent in our fuel economy.

Also, E15 may cause corrosion and other damage to engines and fuel systems. That's why many automakers hate it

The Environmental Protection Agency has vouched for E15, insisting that it's safe for cars from model-years 2001 and later. However, Chrysler hasn't even approved E15 on current vehicles, and many automakers say that using E15 will void the warranty on your car. 

And that's why trade groups representing refineries, car companies, and other businesses filed a lawsuit, asking federal judges to overturn the EPA's approval of E15. Back in August, a Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ruled that those groups lacked standing to sue, and yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear the plaintiff's appeal. Translation: case closed.

There's a possibility that the trade groups could lobby Congress to pass a bill outlawing E15, but they'd need to negotiate two very divided houses and overcome powerful agendas put forward by the Administration and states in the U.S. corn belt.

OUR TAKE

Given the Supreme Court's decision to let the appellate court ruling stand, the arrival of E15 is pretty much a done deal. There are at least two ways to look at that.

If you're thrilled by the thought of an 85/15 blend, congratulations. Life's pretty good. Perhaps you should go buy a lottery ticket.

If, on the other hand, you're bummed at the idea of putting more corn in your gas hole, here are some suggestions for solace:

1. E15 won't become ubiquitous overnight. As Detroit News notes, out of America's 180,000 gas stations, E15 can currently be found at around 24. And since the remaining 179,976 will need to install new blender pumps to sell the stuff, it'll take a while for E15 to appear.

2. No station is required to carry E15, so the adoption rate could be slow. (Though E15 will likely be slightly cheaper than E10, which could hasten the transition.)

3. E10 and lighter blends will remain on tap for the forseeable future. That's because E15 hasn't been approved for motorcycles, heavy-duty engines, off-road vehicles like boats and snowmobiles, or any vehicle from before the 2001 model year. 

4. Going forward, automakers are likely to tweak their vehicles to accommodate E15. So, the car you drive today may not handle it very well, but your next one probably will.

5. As hybrid and electric vehicles slowly gain market share, the ethanol content in our gasoline may become a moot concern. After all, if our future cars use less gas -- or no gas at all -- who cares what's in the pumps?

6. If all else fails, close your eyes and think of England, where E10 is still a big deal.

[h/t John Voelcker]

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Comments (8)
  1. Does this mean will see fueleconomy.gov report vehicle gas mileage ratings using E15 fuel? Automakers will surely enjoy at added challenge as they improve fleets from an average 25 MPG today to 54 MPG in 2025.
     
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  2. Ethanol detractors are looking backwards. We need to look to the future. To cheaper fuel, to more jobs, to cleaner air and lower Greenhouse gases than gasoline can ever bring us.
    They do not understand that modern vehicles are largely already manufactured to handle moderate blends of ethanol (like E15, E20). Making them fully compatible with E85 costs very little. GM, Ford and Chrysler have committed to manufacturing half of their output as Flex Fuel. But, even though these vehicles will be E85 capable, they are designed, to be dumbed down to run on gasoline as their default. They don't make use of the ethanol put into them. These same people are most likely aware that racing cars, like the NASCARs, are designed and tuned around ethanol. Et
     
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  3. It is my impression that as long as there is this HUGE void as in informing drivers how most waste fuel we shall not make the goals needed. Some drivers, without thinking, put gas into their cars with the motor running. In my observation, the 100% use of the AC in AUTO mode, is one prime example. On dry cooler days which includes fall, winter and spring, lots of vehicles can use the ECON mode. This prevents the AC compressor from running and uses the outside air to keep the car at comfortable temperatures. I use this feature and a penalty of about 2 MPG, the monthly national fuel reduction would be substantial. Speeding is the next enemy. So is idling. Oh, the idling.
     
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  4. A gasoline dispenser that sells three grade of fuel typically does it 1 of 2 ways. The old way: the station had 3 supply tanks, No Lead, Mid-Grade, Premium. They piped 3 lines to each dispenser and each selection came from a different tank. The more modern way uses 2 larger tanks, No Lead and Premium. The "blender" function mixed No Lead with Premium to derive the Mid-Grade octane level when selected. The blending of fuels with various additives, including but not limited to ethanol, is done at the terminal facility where tanker trucks load several thousand gallons of fuel at a time to deliver to your local station. Ethanol is not "blended" by the dispenser.
     
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  5. Sounds like the decline of the gasoline era to me, deluted and less powerful fuel. Cars with more and more fuel saving devices choking power. And now our government isn't taking the side of big oil to prevent E15. My only concern with ethanol is it's use in classic cars, it defenatly gets a bit tricky when it comes to the classics.
     
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  6. There are a lot of E85 compatible vehicles out there that can safely burn this fuel. No one is forcing anybody to buy this fuel. Its just for sale at a few stations, if you don't want it don't buy it.
     
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  7. If cars from 2001 and newer are safe, then why did Toyota start putting a NO E15/E85 symbol on their gas caps in 2012? Every 2013 Toyota has this except the optional Flex Fuel v8 found in a few Tundras & Sequoias. Taking the "green" factor out of it, car makers simply have not created their cars to handle more ethanol, (OR, perhaps, it would decrease their MPG, which, more ethanol = lower MPG numbers).

    As far as green goes, ethanol is not green. How can we justify using farmland to produce corn for fuel? There are so many problems with this!

    Continuing to develop gas combustion fueled vehicles is a waste. Carmakers are trying to get more MPG w/more gears (developing 8/9/10 speed trannys)

    Electric is the answer! Hybrid is transition.
     
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  8. I couldn't agree more. While some look at ethanol as a savior, there are too many other factors not being considered; such as the subsidies to produce it, and the long term impact on our food supply. That doesn't even take into account that the more ethanol gasoline has the more mpg's suffer, making it to where you need fuel more often, so more needs to be refined which leads to more carbon production.
     
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