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Senators get some answers on E15

DANIEL LOOKER 08/03/2010 @ 10:17am Business Editor

A bipartisan group of senators met with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and a Department of Energy (DOE) official Monday to learn more about why a request for higher ethanol blends is taking so long. They got some answers but questions remain.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said Tuesday that additional testing of the engine effects from fuel with 15% ethanol was prompted in part because the EPA expects to be sued by opponents of E15.

"She needs plenty of evidence so they aren't successfully sued and overruled by the courts," Grassley told reporters.

The EPA expects a lawsuit challenging a higher level of ethanol by environmentalists, small engine manufacturers and the oil industry, Grassley said. He said the EPA doesn't think the courts are likely to issue a temporary injunction barring the sale of E15 if it's approved. So E15 could be sold while litigation goes ahead.

The senators also got some good news for the ethanol industry, according to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), who organized the meeting.

"I was also very pleased to hear in today's meeting that DOE is also evaluating E20 in its battery of vehicle tests," Harkin said in a statement released Monday evening. "This may well provide the basis for EPA approval of E20 as well as E15 for use in all gasoline-fueled vehicles early next year. This is exciting news and I encourage the Administration to do everything possible to move foreward with this evaluation."

Grassley told reporters Tuesday that they weren't able to learn why EPA is only considering 2001 model year vehicles and newer ones for blends of ethanol above the  current level of 10%. "We really didn't get an answer," he said.

Grassley said that the other official at the meeting, DOE Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman, said that his department is breaking engines apart after they've used E15 for a period of time. Then it checks for any engine damage. DOE will give its testing results to EPA.

"We got the impression that they'd be done within a month or two," Grassley said, but it will be sometime in 2011 before higher blends are available to consumers.

Harkin said he was pleased to learn from Jackson and Poneman that they agree with the senators on the need for the U.S. to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and that the strategy to do that will include biofuels. The group also agreed that biofuels can play a bigger role than they are already.

"These are bipartisan interests and views, and they are shared by our President, too," Harkin said.

According to Grassley, the other senators at the meeting were his fellow Republican, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Democrats Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy, filed its request for a waiver to allow E15 in March of 2009.

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