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EPA set to back limited E15

DANIEL LOOKER 10/13/2010 @ 10:48am Business Editor

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce later today that it’s approving limited use of 15% ethanol blends in cars that are 2007 models or newer. It would be the agency’s latest response to a petition to increase the blend limit that was made in 2009 by the ethanol lobbying group, Growth Energy.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee and a strong proponent of ethanol, said Wednesday that he welcomes EPA’s likely decision.

“The fact is, if this is for vehicles of 2007 and newer, it would cover only about 20% of the vehicles on the road,” Grassley told reporters.

It would also be at least 60 days before EPA’s limited approval of E15 would take effect because the public will have that long to submit comments on the rule, he said. “I’m happy that we’re making some progress.”

Grassley said he expects EPA to be sued by environmental groups, oil refiners, small engine manufacturers and others who oppose higher blends of ethanol in gasoline.

The push for E15 has exposed some rifts among ethanol supporters. The Renewable Fuels Association, while not opposed to E15, has argued that the EPA already has the authority to allow 12% blends of ethanol, since it had previously approved 2% octane boosters in gasoline with 10% ethanol.

The Ohio Corn Growers Association agrees.

“E12 is the smart, interim step toward increased corn ethanol blends in our country’s fuel supply until a full waiver for E15 is approved,” the group’s executive director, Dwayne Siekman, said in a statement released Wednesday.

The EPA is expected to eventually approve E15 for cars made for 2001 or later. But even that may not expand the ethanol market as fast as some in the industry would like. Fuel retailers aren’t expected to move quickly to offer higher blends because of the expense of adding or modifying pumps for a limited market. And EPA will require pumps with E15 to be labeled to warn motorists with older cars from using the fuel. 

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