AAA, renewable fuels industry clash on safety of new E15 blend

Ethanol industry groups cry foul

April 1, 2014 | 2:49 am

AAA urged the EPA Friday to halt the sale of E15, the 15 percent ethanol motor fuel blend, saying consumers may unwittingly damage their engines by using it in cars for which it's not approved.

The organization said it found in a survey that 95 percent of consumers have not heard of E15, and its research indicated less than 5 percent of cars in service are approved by their manufacturers to use E15.

E15 has been an option for flex fuel vehicles for several years where it is available, but the EPA approved its use in April for cars, light duty trucks and sport utility vehicles built in 2001 and after.

AAA said its own engineering experts reviewed the available research and believe that sustained use of E15 in both newer and older vehicles could result in problems such as accelerated engine wear and failure, fuel-system damage and false “check engine” lights in vehicles not approved by the manufacturer to use E15.

“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle,” said AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet in prepared remarks. “Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”

Ethanol industry groups were quick to condemn the AAA report, saying it's consistent with false information the petroleum industry has spread about E15. Petroleum industry groups have lobbied heavily against E15 and have supported the lifting of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which dictates the amount of renewable fuel the industry must sell. That standard will require a major investment by the petroleum industry to distribute and market E15 in future years.

"If you dig below the surface of any of these attacks on the RFS or E15 your shovel will come out covered in oil," said Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, in a statement released Friday. "The irony is that AAA is best known for reporting gas prices — prices that are, according to Iowa State University, a dollar lower due to E10."

Iowa has 41 ethanol refineries capable of producing nearly 3.7 billion gallons annually, with one traditional ethanol plant and two cellulosic ethanol facilities currently under construction.

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