Auto, engine makers sue EPA to block E15 use

By Reuters
Posted Dec. 20, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.

U.S. automakers and engine makers sued the Environmental Protection Agency Monday over its decision to allow higher blends of ethanol for newer cars, saying it could cause confusion at the pumps and damage engines in older vehicles.

The suit asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to send the decision back to the EPA and asks the court to review whether the decision violates the Clean Air Act.

The EPA decided in October to allow cars built in 2007 or later to burn gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15. Current legal levels are 10 percent.

The EPA may decide as soon as January to allow E15 for cars built in 2001 and later.

Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, had asked the EPA for a waiver for the sale of the fuel because the business faces a glut of the alternative motor fuel.

But a new coalition that filed the suit, called the Engine Products Group, said the EPA’s decision to allow higher blends for some cars could confuse consumers. Engines in some vehicles, boats, lawnmowers and chain saws could be damaged by the wrong fuel, they said.

“A partial waiver, by its nature, necessarily will result in the misfueling of products not designed or tested for E15 use,” said Kris Kiser, who spoke on behalf of the group.

The coalition includes the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, and others who say they collectively represent some 400 million engine products used by Americans.

They say higher ethanol blends can corrode fuel lines and other parts in engines that have not been adjusted.

“it is clear that EPA has not fulfilled its statutory obligations to ensure the safe introduction of E15,” and it was “necessary to seek relief in the courts in order to protect our manufacturers and our consumers,” said Thom Dammrich, the president of the boat group NMMA.

Last month, food groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Meat Association, filed a suit seeking to overturn EPA’s October decision. They said allowing E15 could push up food prices, because ethanol in this country is mostly made from corn, also a feed for livestock. Already more than 30 percent of the U.S. corn crop goes to making ethanol.

Tom Bius, the chief executive of the Growth Energy ethanol group, said E15 was safe for all vehicles on the road.

“Concerns about misfueling are premature, as EPA is drafting a robust labeling rule and will conduct a vigorous public education campaign, and we are confident that the process will be successful,” Bius said.

The EPA could not be immediately reached for comment.

A spokesman for another ethanol industry group, the Renewable Fuels Association, said the EPA could have avoided the confusion by allowing the use of E15 for all cars and light duty trucks.

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