The ethanol lobby doesn’t like the latest research on E15 – gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol – because it raises questions about EPA’s premature decision to approve E15 for use in post-2001 cars and light-duty trucks. The Coordinating Research Council (CRC) study warns that E15 could damage fuel pumps and onboard fuel measurement systems, potentially affecting millions of vehicles. This follows last year’s CRC finding that E15 could damage car and truck engines.  

Since ethanol producers’ goal is more ethanol use, and an EPA pullback on E15 would get in the way of that goal, attacks on both studies – such as those by the Renewable Fuels Association – aren’t surprising. But let’s be candid: They won’t be around if and when motorists end up on the side of the road with a seized-up fuel pump, damaged by E15 use. Nor will they help consumers with repair bills for engines needing an expensive valve job due to E15 damage – which automakers say won’t be covered by warranties.

Yet, instead of acknowledging the problem, ethanol backers go on the offensive. Click here for a detailed rebuttal of responses to the latest CRC research. But let’s make a couple of quick points now.

First, CRC has been testing engines and vehicles for more than 70 years. This research often has been done with the participation and support of the ethanol industry and government agencies. Second, if CRC’s work is faulty as RFA suggests, why is RFA currently sponsoring a CRC research program examining the driveability of E15 (Page 62)?

The oil and natural gas industry supports renewable fuels. Ethanol has desirable blending properties, and refiners would use it with or without a law requiring it. But scientific research shows that E15 could cause significant problems in some vehicles in use, for which consumers would bear the cost. EPA knew E15 vehicle testing was ongoing but decided not to wait for the results before approving its use – most likely to raise the permissible concentration level of ethanol in fuels so that greater volumes could be used, as required by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Instead of attacking research it doesn’t like, the ethanol industry should welcome information that could help more and more auto manufacturers adapt future vehicles to accommodate higher levels of ethanol. In the meantime, we’ll say it again: EPA should pull back its E15 decision and the RFS, which forced this fuel to market before its time, should be repealed.