The Environmental Protection Agency just approved the year-round sale of E15, a gasoline blend comprised of 15 percent ethanol. Until now, the agency had banned the mixture during summer months, since high-ethanol blends react with hot air to form smog.
Most cars can’t handle this high-ethanol gasoline. So, by pushing more E15 into the fuel supply, the EPA could wreck vehicle engines and put drivers on the hook for costly repairs. Let’s hope officials reverse their decision before it’s too late.
The average vehicle is more than a decade old. High-ethanol fuels can damage these older-model cars and trucks. Nearly three in four vehicles aren’t compatible with E15.
Consider some of the most popular cars. General Motors models older than 2012 can’t use E15. Neither can a number of pre-2013 Ford models. And Toyota and Honda cars must be 2014 models or newer to safely run on the blend.
In fact, any driver who pumps E15 into a car made before 2012 is likely wreaking havoc on his/her engine. That means costly trips to the mechanic.
E15 isn’t just bad for engines — it can physically endanger gas station workers and drivers. The EPA recently found that sealants on infrastructure at gas stations built before 2007 cannot safely store high-ethanol fuel.
The EPA’s decision will also inflate the cost of a fill-up. Refiners get credits for blending renewable fuel into their gasoline, and must report these credits to the EPA. The new E15 rule would make this reporting more regular and cumbersome, raising the cost of compliance. These higher costs will eventually be passed on to drivers.
The EPA’s decision is particularly galling because there’s no compelling reason to blend more ethanol into our gasoline.
The E15 rule is designed to prop up the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program that requires refiners to blend a preset amount of biofuels, like ethanol, into gasoline each year. When the Renewable Fuel Standard program was created in 2005, the United States was heavily dependent on foreign oil imports. Reducing those imports was a bipartisan goal — and increased reliance on biofuels was seen as a national security imperative.
But today, we’re in the middle of an energy renaissance thanks to technological advancements like fracking and horizontal drilling. The United States recently leapfrogged Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s top oil producer.
In other words, we already accomplished our energy independence goals without scaling up our reliance on ethanol.
When they created the Renewable Fuel Standard, lawmakers also hoped it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proliferation of corn-based ethanol — which is much cheaper to produce but less environmentally friendly than more advanced biofuels — has interfered with that goal. Turning corn into ethanol requires fossil fuel-intensive products like fertilizer.
“Of the 13 experts we interviewed, 10 generally agreed that the RFS has likely had a limited effect, if any, on greenhouse gas emissions to date,” states a recent Government Accountability Office Report.
Luckily, lawmakers from both parties recently introduced legislation to keep ethanol mixes at 10 percent or less, which would help protect consumers’ engines and wallets. Let’s hope the EPA follows their lead and nixes its rule.
Drew Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. This piece originally ran in the Houston Chronicle.Reach