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EPA approves first ethanol content increase in 32 years

Yesterday, after 18 months of consideration and review of more than 78,000 comments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved E15 for automobiles manufactured in 2007 and newer. It is the first increase in ethanol allowed in standard automobiles since E10 was approved in 1979. Audio of the announcement is available here.

The decision was in response to a waiver filed by Growth Energy in March, 2009. In response to the decision, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis said "Today’s approval of E15 for newer vehicles is the first crack in the blend wall in more than 30 years, and proves what was laid out in Growth Energy’s Green Jobs Waiver – that E15 is a good fuel for American motorists." Jeff Broin, the CEO of POET and co-chair of Growth Energy, said that the decision was an important first step that would "help give investors the needed confidence to commit to bringing cellulosic ethanol to commercial scale."

While the decision sparked criticism, it was virtually all based on politics and other factors extraneous to the EPA decision. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said: "Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks.” According to the clean air act, that is the only criteria upon which the EPA is supposed to base their decision. Will the new blend of fuel cause or contribute to the harm of vehicle emissions control equipment? Nothing else mattered. Their testing, which was supported by voluminous testing from industry, academia and government, showed that the emissions control systems in newer vehicles will perform just fine.

Typical is a release from the lobbyists for meat packers and big food conglomerates that talks about everything but the science upon which EPA based their decision. Certainly EPA approval had something to do with the fact that for all of the opponents' hot air, they were unable to come up with a single, objective study - not one - showing that E15 would harm engines. The best they could do was cherry-pick a piece of data here or there out of overwhelmingly positive studies on E15.

So, what's next? There are numerous state and federal regulatory hurdles that must be cleared before E15 gets into fuel pumps and the ruling puts that process in motion. The EPA has said they will rule on E15 for vehicles manufactured in 2001-2006 later this year and the industry has indicated that it will continue to push for testing in legacy vehicles. If all goes well, E15 will show up in pumps early next year and start to make a dent by the end of 2011.


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