The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday that it would delay until January a decision on whether to allow the use of fuels containing up to 15% ethanol in vehicles made from 2001 through 2006.
A decision initially was expected in December, but the EPA said it had been told by the Energy Department that necessary testing won't be completed until the end of December. The EPA said it would make a decision "shortly" after receiving the data.
The news has made the corn market a bit nervous because without approval of higher ethanol gasoline for older cars, it may be difficult to get gasoline stations to offer E15 fuel.
The EPA on Oct. 13 approved fuel blends containing up to 15% ethanol (E15) for use in vehicles made since 2007. However, that decision applies to fewer than 20% of the vehicles on U.S. roads.
If E15 is approved for use in 2001-2006 model vehicles, then about 60% of the U.S. auto fleet will be able to use the higher ethanol blend.
In a press release, Growth Energy, the trade group that requested approval of E15 said it had been informed by EPA that the decision was being delayed because of the need to retest one poorly maintained car that had failed emission tests on all fuels including conventional gasoline with no ethanol added.
“The problem was with the testing process, not the fuel. This also demonstrates just how committed EPA is to the integrity of the testing; they are doing this right,” the Growth Energy statement said.
The group said it was confident that testing would eventually confirm that “E15 is a great fuel for American motorists.”
The American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry group, said the EPA should extend its tests for an additional six months or more. "Rushing to allow more ethanol before we know it is safe could be disastrous for consumers and could jeopardize the future of renewable fuels," a spokeswoman told Reuters News Service.
The oil industry is opposed to raising the ethanol blending cap because the move would mean significant new costs for gasoline stations, which would have to install new pumps and storage tanks.
Auto manufacturers also say that the engines of older vehicles could be damaged when alcohol-based fuels are used.
Many service stations are reluctant to offer E15 because most fuel pumps have not been certified to dispense it. Service station owners could also be sued by consumers if E15 harms the engines of cars, boats or chainsaws.
Editor’s note: Richard Brock, Corn & Soybean Digest's marketing editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.