Editor's Note: Our Outboard Expert, Charles Plueddeman, continues to report for us on the ongoing effort by a bio-fuels trade group to increase ethanol content in gasoline. Today was the deadline for action by the EPA on the request, and the news wasn't bad for people whose boats burn gasoline. —John Burnham
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today delayed making a final decision on a waiver request that would permit the use of up to 15 percent ethanol in gasoline motor fuel. That waiver request had been made in March 2009 by Growth Energy, a bio-fuels trade association representing 51 ethanol producers. The waiver request was opposed by the marine industry and dozens of other trade and environmental organizations, from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to the Sierra Club. Boats.com has reported on ethanol issues related to marine engines before (see The Outboard Expert: Ethanol Alert and Will Politics Trump Science in the Ethanol Debate?).
In a letter to Growth Energy, the EPA said that while not all tests have been completed, the results of two tests indicate that engines in newer cars likely can handle an ethanol blend higher than the current 10-percent limit. The agency will decide whether to raise the blending limit when more testing data is available, perhaps by mid-2010.
A media release issued by the EPA today makes no mention of testing so-called E15 fuel in older cars and trucks, or in off-road vehicles, including boats. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), none of the 18 million boats currently in operation in the U.S. have been designed, certified or warranted to run on anything above E10 fuel, which contains up to 10 percent ethanol. The EPA release implies that it may approve E15 for 2001 and newer vehicles by mid-2010 unless data reveal problems. The NMMA is adamant that no decision should be made on E15 until all independent scientific studies confirm that it is compatible with both on-road and non-road engines.
“The EPA appears to only be looking at automotive testing,” said Mat Dunn, NMMA Legislative Director. “We think that is inappropriate and in violation of the Clean Air Act. The EPA should also be conducting tests on off-road engines, including marine engines, and we will insist on that testing. Any attempt to bifurcate the fuel supply by allowing E15 for only certain automobiles would lead to a myriad of misfueling, liability and consumer safety issues and likely cause the price of fuel for boaters to increase while availability of compatible blends decreases.”
It would appear, at least, that boat owners have dodged the ethanol bullet for the 2010 boating season. In the meantime, the EPA will continue to juggle the science and politics of ethanol, an issue that will certainly get even more intense at the 2010 Congressional election approaches.