My Turn: EPA effort to increase amount of ethanol in gas misguided

For the Monitor
Published: 11/3/2016 3:10:13 AM

Monday’s Monitor included a very interesting article on the cost of upgrading gasoline pumps to accept microchip-enabled credit cards. The article placed the average price of a new pump at approximately $17,000 and highlighted the hardship this imposes on station owners who are having to choose between accepting chargebacks for credit card fraud or spend a year’s profit to upgrade the pumps.

Most people are not aware that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a rule change to increase the amount of ethanol in the country’s fuel supply. This increase is being pushed despite the EPA’s acknowledgement that the only way to effect the change is to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent (E15), up from the current 10 percent (E10). None of the estimated 22 million motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles in use in the United States are certified by the EPA’s own rules to use E15.

In fact, the use of E15 in any small engine such as boats, lawnmowers, chainsaws, snowmobiles, snowblowers and the like is illegal, may cause damage to the engine and voids most manufacturers’ warranties. Even cars and trucks may be impacted.

Toyota, producer of the best-selling car in America, the Camry, stated in January 2015 that they “cannot recommend the use of fuel with greater than E10 (10 percent ethanol) for Toyota vehicles currently on the road, except for the Flex Fueled Vehicles.” The EPA’s own rules prohibit the use of E15 in all model year 2000 and earlier motor vehicles.

The EPA’s proposed method of providing access to both E10 and E15 is to promote the use of “blender pumps,” which would be capable of dispensing both versions. Because of the financial hardship of replacing pumps to avoid chargebacks for credit card fraud, how many stations can reasonably be expected to change those pumps again? I believe most stations will simply switch to dispensing only E15 to avoid the cost of changing to blender pumps. I base this on the fact that although ethanol-free gas is still allowed to be sold, there are only 17 locations dispensing E0 in New Hampshire, according to pure-gas.org. Most stations have simply switched to E10 due to the cost and inconvenience of carrying both products.

Adding ethanol to fuel increases the oxygen content, ostensibly to reduce emissions in cars built before the introduction of modern closed-loop fuel injection systems in the 1980s. Unfortunately it also decreases the energy content in gasoline and therefore decreases the miles driven per gallon.

Several studies both in the U.S. and abroad, including “effect of oxygenates in gasoline on fuel consumption and emissions in three Euro 4 passenger cars” by the European Commission and “ethanol’s broken promise” by the nonpartisan Environmental Working Group have found ethanol reduces a vehicle’s efficiency while having no impact on vehicle emissions, and that reducing the ethanol in gasoline would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

House Resolution 5180, the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016, was introduced in May of this year and would prohibit the introduction of E15 into the marketplace. The bill had 117 co-sponsors, including members of both parties. My representative, Ann Kuster, was not one of them. On June 8 of this year, 45 representatives from Congress signed a bipartisan letter to the EPA expressing concern over the agency’s rule change and requesting clarification on how consumers would be made aware that it is illegal to use E15 in many gasoline engines. Kuster was not a signatory to the letter.

I emailed Rep. Kuster to ask for her support in protecting the interests of motorcycle and small-engine users. I received a response stating that she supports increasing the amount of ethanol in gasoline. I went to hear Rep. Kuster speak at an event and raised the same question. This time she said she was not familiar with the situation, but if I gave my contact information to one of her staffers she would look into it and get back to me.

That was two months ago and I have heard nothing.

Incidentally, at that same event when questioned about Common Core, she claimed to not be familiar with that either.

What is she doing in Washington? Whatever it is, she clearly is not representing my interests or those of the vast majority of her constituents who own one or more gasoline engines, which will be damaged by the introduction of E15.

(Lee Lajoie lives in Concord.)




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