On Tuesday, February 26th, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled “Mid Level Ethanol Blends: Consumer and Technical Research Needs.” The hearing panel consisted of three witnesses, the American Automobile Association (AAA), the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and the Coordinating Research Council (CRG). Vice Chairman Chris Stewart (R-UT) chaired the hearing.
Vice Chairman Stewart had this to say, “Unfortunately, the more E15 is studied, the more concerns are identified. Besides potential widespread impacts on vehicle engines, the EPA has led a haphazard transition to E-15 usage marked by regulatory confusion, bungled implementation, and a lack of consumer education.”
The hearing covered a lot of ground but all panelists endorsed one common theme, the need for more research when it comes to using E-15 as a common fuel. E-15 is fuel that has 85% fossil fuel and 15% ethanol or distilled corn fuel.
The Clean Air Act (CAA) allows for up to a 10% blend of ethanol. In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a waiver of the CAA allowing for up to a 15% blend of fuel in model years 2001 and newer. The EPA did this after the Department of Energy (DOE) did a study and found the blend to be acceptable, sort of.
The study did not do any testing on a power train or the fuel delivery systems. The only aspect that was tested was the emissions control system, which is troubling to the Motorcycle Riders Foundation.
Ethanol was first introduced to the marketplace in the early 1990’s. It was found that the higher oxygen content was able to help bring down carbon monoxide in the tailpipe exhaust of carburetor fed internal combustion engines and therefore, the reduction of smog. Todays modern fuel injected engines can self adjust using oxygen sensors, basically eliminating the need for ethanol.
One witness went into detail about how ethanol is detrimental to engines both large and small. One witness went so far to say that 95% of all vehicles on the road should not use E-15. Two passenger vehicle manufactures have retooled the power train of their vehicles to work well with E-15, the rest have not.
AAA said that there are 169,000 gas stations in the US and just around 20,000 are selling E-15. They went on to emphasize that this is why we need more research now before it’s a more wide spread problem.
All three witnesses also agreed that the environmental impact and cost savings are a wash when it comes to using E-15. The biggest problem with E-15 is the fact that it can harm the engine and the negative side effect of lowering the miles per gallon.
Draft legislation was also unveiled at the hearing, authored by long time motorcycle defender and a MRF Champion, Mr. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The Sensenbrenner bill would halt the use of E-15 until proper, real world testing is conducted on the effects of E-15 on cars, trucks and motorcycles.
Another issue that was revealed in the hearing was the fact that no one seems to want to take responsibility for any damage done by E-15. Most auto and motorcycle manufactures will not honor warranties when the engine is damaged by E-15 and the fuel providers, who were not at the hearing, do not seem to be standing behind their product.
In June 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner sent letters to 14 automobile manufacturers inquiring as to the relationship between vehicle damage resulting from the use of E-15 and vehicle warranties. All 14 companies responded with letters outlining their concerns with E-15 use and affirmed the potential for E-15 to negatively impact their vehicles and cause engine damage. Furthermore, the manufacturers indicated that their vehicle fleets were not designed to operate on E-15, and stated that the warranties would not cover damage resulting from E-15.
This is not the first time this country has dealt with a change in the fuel supply. When this country switched from leaded to unleaded fuel we had a similar fuel-mislabeling problem. That was fixed when gas stations and auto manufactures agreed to change the filler tube on the vehicle to a different size. This made it nearly impossible to fill a car not designed for leaded gas. No one is suggesting that type of a fix this time around.
One of the witnesses was asked how other countries, such as Brazil have been able to fuel the countries cars with blends up to 50% ethanol. The answer was shocking. He said that the higher blend essentially “ate the cars apart” and left Brazil unable to import cars. They had to completely redesign the power train and now Brazilians can basically only buy Brazilian made cars. He also added that it would take a decade for the US to completely turn over the entire nation’s fleet of cars to work perfectly with E-15.
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation strongly supports the Sensenbrenner bill that calls for more research before wide spread use of E-15 should be allowed. While that bill is yet to be formally introduced, the text can be found here:
Sensenberenner is looking for cosponsors for this important legislation. Please call your member of the House of Representatives and ask them to sign onto the “Sensenbrenner Ethanol Bill”. You can reach the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation will keep you updated on this issue.