E15 proposal dropped, for now

A proposed Senate bill that would have led to increasing ethanol content in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent is dead

WASHINGTON — A proposed Senate bill that would have led to increasing ethanol content in gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent is dead — for now.

The amendment, which would have granted a waiver to normal approval processes for fuel containing 15 percent ethanol, was dropped in late September from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2010 appropriations bill.

"They're circumventing the normal testing process," BASS Conservation Director Chris Horton said of the ethanol industry. "They're trying an end-around."

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) withdrew his proposal to allow introduction of so-called E15 blends without the alcohol/gas fuel being tested under current rule-making processes, for lack of Congressional support, Horton said.

The amendment was opposed by a coalition of groups that included the oil and gas industry, auto and marine manufacturers, sportsmen's groups, the food industry, tax-watchdog groups, environmental organizations and groups addressing hunger.

"It is a very strong and diverse [coalition] … that signals to the Congress that there's a lot of opposition and skepticism," said Matt Dunn, of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

One of the main concerns with the proposed amendment was introduction of E15 fuel despite a lack of understanding of long-term effects on equipment and the environment, opponents said.

"We certainly support green energy, but ethanol is not the best choice," Horton said.

Corn ethanol in particular presents several problems, including an environmentally costly production footprint.

"It requires 21 percent more energy to produce a gallon of corn ethanol than it would take just to burn a gallon of [pure] gas," he explained. Reduced fuel efficiency also raises environmental problems.

"It burns hotter, so you have more emissions, and it's less fuel efficient so you need more gas to go the same distance," Dunn added.

Of course, the boating industry also is concerned about the impact of E15 on outboard engines, for which warranties cover only E10 blends.

"We know we're having problems with ethanol in our engines already. If we go with a higher mix of ethanol, it's fairly well accepted we're going to have more problems," Horton said.

Horton and Dunn said it's vital to wait until researchers finish their work before increasing ethanol content in gasoline.

"Everybody's worried about the proposals to up the percentage of ethanol without the normal [approval] process," Horton said. "We don't like one special-interest group trying to circumvent the normal process the rest of America has to go through."

Horton emphasized that ethanol proponents are not likely to give up their attempt to circumvent the approval process for fuel blends exceeding 10 percent ethanol.

"The war is not over," he said. "They're adamant about increasing ethanol blends," adding that anglers must remain engaged in the issue.

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