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E&E News: Inhofe, Snowe question EPA on access to non-ethanol fuel
January 6, 2011

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov 

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Inhofe, Snowe question EPA on access to non-ethanol fuel

(01/06/2011)

Jenny Mandel, E&E reporter

Link to Article  

Link to Letter

Two rural-state senators yesterday questioned U.S. EPA over the long-term availability of conventional gasoline for use in engines not designed to handle ethanol blends, expressing concern that retailers in some areas are simply not offering ethanol-free fuel.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Environment and Public Works ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) asked the agency to analyze the current and future availability of non-ethanol gasoline in the United States.

"Thousands of engines operating in snowmobiles, chainsaws, lawnmowers, boats and airplanes were manufactured to utilize pure gasoline and have encountered major technical problems when using E10 [10 percent ethanol], let alone E15 [15 percent ethanol] as a fuel source," they wrote.

Noting EPA's warnings that E15 should not be used in the majority of those non-road engines, the senators said "it appears that EPA did not consider the implications of what is a growing problem ... the decreasing availability of pure gasoline."

They cited an example of the Central Maine Regional Airport in Norridgewock, Maine, saying managers there have had difficulty locating a supplier of conventional gasoline after "the major distributor of pure gasoline in New England" stopped carrying it.

"Clearly, if non-ethanol gasoline is not available, consumers may have little choice despite clear pump labeling, but to use a product that EPA has determined is not suitable for use in non-road vehicles, as is the case with E15," they wrote.

EPA's rules allowing E15 for use in model year 2007 and newer vehicles expressly prohibit the fuel's use in all other vehicles and engines.

The senators also asked if EPA considered gasoline availability in granting the E15 waiver, requested an analysis of current and future domestic gasoline availability and asked for policy recommendations to ensure a supply of non-ethanol gasoline.

EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.

"How many engines are at stake?'

Chris Thorne, a spokesman for ethanol trade group Growth Energy, vehemently disagreed with several elements of the senators' arguments.

"They're claiming that E10 is a problem for these small engines -- it's not," Thorne said, noting that testing carried out by the Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory found minimal problems in non-road engines and that those issues that did arise could generally be addressed by adjusting the machine's choke.

The most serious problems identified in that study among non-road engines came when some gear tested using ethanol blends ranging up to 20 percent demonstrated "higher idle speed and experienced unintentional clutch engagement ... which can be mitigated in some engines."

Ethanol critics point out that unintentional operation of equipment such as chainsaws or lawnmowers can be dangerous.

Thorne also took issue with the senators' statements that conventional gasoline, also known as E0, could become unavailable. "I'm not a market economist, but I would assume that if there's a market for it, that retailers will supply it," he said. In markets where E0 did become scarce, he said, it could be because states were limiting its availability to improve compliance with clean air standards.

On the broader policy question, Thorne said the fueling needs of little-used non-road engines should not dictate the fuel policies -- and options to limit pollution from -- the much larger market of fuel for vehicle use.

"Exactly how many engines are at stake here?" he asked. "How much gasoline do they consume compared to the total amount of fuel consumed? If I get 2 gallons of gasoline a year for my lawnmower, that's a lot. But that should prevent me from putting E15 into my car, that I put 40 gallons a week into?"

He said mandating the availability of conventional gasoline in the marketplace would be a poor policy response to a limited demand for non-ethanol gasoline.

Click here to read the senators' letter.

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