Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Ethanol Supreme?

The following is a reprint, with permission, of an article by Dan Shell of Power Equipment Trade magaine.

Some say the United States Supreme Court has better things to do than help adjudicate a court case concerning the EPA’s decision to approve E15 15% ethanol-blended gasoline, but I say what better place to help affirm that the great American task of “gassing up”—a job most of us learned by our early teens if not younger—remains safe for both autos and power equipment and that consumers won’t be putting their lives into their hands along with the gas pump handle when they put fuel in their cars, mowers and boats.

And what red-blooded American hasn’t experienced or witnessed some large or small injustice and had the thought: “I’m gonna take it all the way to the Supreme Court!”

In this case, it’s the EPA’s flawed process in approving the E15 fuel—despite testing that showed major problems with small engines, small to major problems with many makes and model years of autos plus incompatibility with most existing gasoline delivery infrastructure and equipment.  The Engine Products Group (EPG), composed of a wide range of auto, marine and small engine trade associations, had sued to reverse the EPA’s decision-making process in approving E15 as a transportation fuel in January 2011. The agency had not followed its own procedures and ignored evidence that didn’t support approval, the EPG said. As noted in PET when the decision came out late last fall, the court tossed the EPG’s lawsuit on a technicality, claiming those in the group, not being “victims” of EPA’s decision (yet), didn’t have standing to challenge the decision in court.

Now, the EPG is petitioning the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s ruling and order that the case be heard on its merits, not decided by technicality. Interestingly, one of the judges on the lower federal court panel that issued the initial decision last fall stated in his ruling that while the EPG may lack standing, it has a very good case on its merits.

We’ve covered the issue closely here at PET, ever since ethanol interests petitioned EPA to approve E15 back in 2009. The National Renewable Energy Lab completed research in fall 2009 that showed major small engine problems with E15 fuel in a variety of products. Since the small engine study was considered preliminary (part of the “process”), I remember calling EPA directly several times over the following year asking about additional research with E15, specifically with small engines. Each time, I was told that the Coordinating Research Council was handling additional testing. I was surprised along with many others when EPA approved E15 for cars 2006 and newer in 2011, then extended it to 2001 and newer in 2012—all before the extensive Coordinating Research Council research was completed.

Released in 2012, the CRC research showed that as many as one on three vehicles on the road could experience problems with E15 fuel. “It’s a very big deal because we know that if E15 is in the marketplace, there will be engine failures,” says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. “It’s not in the interest of consumers to discover, after the fact, that engine performance problems are occurring because a new fuel was rushed into the marketplace.”

The petition asks the Supreme Court to allow the engine makers’ case against the EPA to move forward. A decision on whether the court will review the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruling could come this summer, Kiser says, although a ruling might not come for two years.


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