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EPA misses chances to encourage E15 and E30

DANIEL LOOKER 03/04/2014 @ 7:05pm Business Editor

This week the EPA released its final rule for cleaner, lower-sulfur gasoline that could have made it easier for automakers to use high-octane ethanol blends that may be needed in tomorrow's more efficient turbo-charged engines.

The new Tier 3 gasoline will cut sulfur content from 30 parts per million allowed today to 10 ppm by 2017 -- when the nation will catch up with standards already in effect in Europe, Japan, South Korea, and several other countries.

The tougher standards were welcomed by automakers, environmentalists, and health organizations like the American Lung Association.

"Cars, light trucks, and SUVs are major sources of pollution that can harm the health of our most vulnerable family members and neighbors, including those who suffer from asthma, lung and heart disease, as well as those who live, work, and go to school near major roadways," said Harold Wimmer, CEO of the Lung Association.

And, starting in 2017, when EPA tests cars for emissions and fuel economy, the fuel it uses will be E10 (gasoline with 10% ethanol), instead of a laboratory fuel called indolene clear.

"We commend EPA for selecting a certification fuel that is representative of in-use fuels," says a statement released by General Motors.

Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol shares the GM view of indolene. "E10 is an improvement over what we have today," he told Agriculture.com. "Indolene is not something you or I or anyone can buy at the pump." The EPA also will allow testing of flexible-fuel vehicles with ethanol levels up to 83%. (That's not a typo. Actual ethanol content in E85, or 85% ethanol blends, varies. EPA will allow up to 83% for testing.)

To Jennings, the new rule also represents several missed opportunities for the ethanol industry. ACE was hoping that E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) would become the new test fuel in 2017.

"We think E15 will have penetrated much of the market by 2017," Jennings said.

EPA also missed a chance to give even higher blends support. The agency didn't change its stand in its earlier proposed rule on also using a high-octane fuel such as E30. Automakers will be able to ask the EPA to use E30 as a test fuel, but only "if they can demonstrate that such a fuel would be used by the operator and would be readily available nationwide" as well as meeting other conditions.

That's a familiar limitation, since the oil industry hasn't welcomed E10 in the past, and some companies have been resisting E15.

"We feel like that's something that puts the oil industry in charge of something that should be decided by consumers," Jennings said of the E30 limitations.

EPA also did not give E15 a waiver of 1 pound of pressure from its vapor pressure limit for fuels. It's an exemption already granted to E10. That means that E15 will continue to be unavailable in some areas of the country during summer months, Jennings said. Ethanol industry supporters say that E15 and higher blends have lower vapor pressure than E10.

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