Ethanol efforts moving forward, but no passage yet
The marine industry and others worried about ethanol in the fuel supply are making progress in the battle against E-15, although no long-term solutions have gained approval.
The largest concern for boating is the use of 15-percent ethanol blends, known as E-15. Although not approved for use in marine engines, industry advocates say there is significant potential for misfueling if boaters fill up at a gas station, as many do.
The industry scored a temporary victory in November with the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to cut the amount of ethanol required to be blended into gasoline and diesel for 2014. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA has authority to set those levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Still, to make real progress Congress needs to act to address what John McKnight, vice president of government relations with the National Marine Manufacturers Association, called an “unattainable mandate.”
“We appreciate the clear step the EPA has taken to not only acknowledge the unattainable mandate included in the standard but also to leave room for consumers, manufacturers and industries, including the recreational boating community that rely on a continued availability of low-ethanol fuel blends,” McKnight said at the time of the announcement.
Representatives from NMMA, BoatUS and other associations testified in front of Congress on the issue in December.
In comments in advance of the hearing, Nicole Vasilaros, director of regulatory and legal affairs for NMMA called the EPA’s decision a “limited fix, not a permanent solution.”
“We remain sure that this is just a temporary stopgap,” she said.
While EPA has some leeway to make revisions to the requirements set forth by the RFS, the law itself needs to be revised or revoked to make any long-term impact.
“Congress has to also do its part,” Vasilaros said. “The RFS is a broken law that sets unrealistic fuel standards.”
Nicole Wood, government affairs representative from BoatUS, said her group commends the EPA for taking a “giant step” toward addressing the problems in the RFS, but that there are still several potential problems with ethanol, particularly E15 blends being seen in more gas stations across the country.
According to BoatUS, more than 63 percent of its members report fueling their boats at roadside gas stations. So while E15 is not approved for use in marine engines, there is increasing potential for misfueling and engine failure, Wood said.
There have been a number of bills introduced to address the renewable fuel standard and ethanol issues. Most recently, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in December introduced the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013. The bill has eight other cosponsors, both Democrats and Republicans.
The act would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate, but leave intact requirements for other biofuels, such as the isobutanol blends the marine industry has been researching (see more in the July 2013 Boating Industry).
“The time to end the corn ethanol mandate has arrived,” Sen. Coburn said in a statement after the bill’s introduction. “This misguided policy has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, increased fuel prices and made our food more expensive. Eliminating this mandate will let market forces, rather than political and parochial forces, determine how to diversify fuel supplies in an ever-changing marketplace.”
More than 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is now used to produce ethanol, which has been blamed for increasing food and feed prices.
Following the introduction of the bill, more than 40 organizations, including NMMA, BoatUS and the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas issued a letter in support. The bill, S. 1807, has been referred to the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
In October, 96 members of Congress signed a letter urging their colleagues to support lower levels of ethanol in the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Several other ethanol-related bills were introduced in 2013. For full coverage of the details and issues around each one, be sure to read our coverage at BoatingIndustry.com, but here’s a brief round-up of where they stand. With battles over the budget, health care, the debt ceiling and more, little has happened in Washington.
• H.R. 875, introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., blocks the use of any blend of more than 10 percent ethanol until further study can be done on potential damage from the use of E15. That bill was approved out of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in April 2013 but has had no further action.
• H.R. 1461 & H.R. 1462, were both introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. The two bills call for the reforming of the Renewable Fuel Standard and capping ethanol at 10 percent. Both were introduced in April and referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy & Power.
• S. 344, introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Sen. David Vitters, R-La., prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing waivers for any gasoline blend of more than 10 percent ethanol and would repeal the previous waivers that allowed E15 on the market. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in February 2013.