E15 Damage to Motorboat Engines

E15 Damage to Motorboat Engines

About half of all anglers – both freshwater and saltwater – primarily use a boat while fishing. Unfortunately, a recent push by ethanol producers could have significant detrimental effects on marine engine durability, performance and emissions.

In 2005, Congress established the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to promote the use of alternative biofuels in conjunction with traditional gasoline. The biofuel of choice quickly became ethanol, a corn-based alcohol. Then, in 2007, Congress expanded the RFS, mandating that fuel suppliers blend higher concentrations of ethanol into the nation's gasoline and diesel supplies. The 2007 RFS update also included yearly, increasing benchmarks for the minimum volume of ethanol required to be blended into the consumer fuel supply that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set every year.

On November 30, 2015 the agency released its final rule on 2014, 2015 and 2016 volume obligations that lay out the target amounts of various renewable fuels the nation must produce. While the ruling sets volume targets for ethanol below statutory mandates set by Congress in 2007, they are still far afield of consumer demand, making the sale of high ethanol blends ever more likely. For 2016, the rule calls for 18.11 billion gallons of total renewable fuels, 14.5 billion gallons of which would come from ethanol.

In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposal to elevate the production of corn-based ethanol. For 2017, the EPA has proposed to exceed last year’s volume by 300 million gallons, which would bring total production of ethanol to 14.8 billion gallons and cause average concentrations to exceed E10.

Our Position

ASA opposes any legislation or policy that will facilitate the introduction of E15 into the marketplace before a thorough review has been completed, deeming it safe for all engine types.

Issue Background

Most marine and other small gasoline-powered engines are designed, calibrated and certified to run on no more than 10 percent ethanol, and higher concentrations of ethanol in fuel pose serious mechanical problems for these engines. Other factors affecting consideration include vehicle and engine warranties and the effects on gasoline distribution systems (e.g., gas pumps). Additionally, an increase in ethanol allowances carries serious environmental concerns, since corn production requires significantly more water than most other crops and leads to greater runoff of nutrients and other pollutants into watersheds.

Growth Energy, a coalition of ethanol producers, is working to increase the amount of ethanol blended into a gallon of gasoline up to 15 percent (E15). The coalition has submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would waive the current Clean Air Act limitation on ethanol content in gasoline, authorizing the use of higher ethanol blends.

On October 13, 2010, the EPA announced that it would approve Growth Energy’s petition and allow an increase in the amount of ethanol in a gallon of gasoline to as much as 15 percent for use in vehicles made since the 2007 model year. Three months later, the agency announced its decision to approve the use of E15 in light-duty vehicles made since the 2001 model year. The EPA is currently addressing significant questions and concerns regarding anticipated problems with consumer confusion and the risk of mis-fueling.

On April 2, 2012, the EPA approved the first applications for registration of ethanol for use in making E15 gasoline. Registration of ethanol to make E15 is a significant step toward its production, sale, and use in model year 2001 and newer gasoline-fueled cars and light trucks. To enable widespread use of E15, the Obama Administration has set a goal to help fueling station owners install 10,000 blender pumps over the next five years.

Members of Congress and various industries, from recreational boating to food production, are concerned that the EPA’s vehicle testing is insufficient and are pushing for the continued use of E10, while some biofuel advocates are pushing for the future allowance of up to 30 percent ethanol blends.

On August 17, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a challenge brought by the Engine Products Group seeking to overturn the EPA’s decision E15 into the U.S. fuel supply. This decision puts the potentially dangerous E15 closer to gas pumps across the country. The challenge was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Vehicle manufacturers will void warranties for engine damage due to the E15 blend. Motorist advocacy group, AAA has also spoken out again the high blend and has asked the EPA for better studies for all engine types.

In early 2013, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced the RFS Reform Act of 2013 (S. 344 and H.R. 1462) into both chambers of Congress. This act will prohibit the EPA from approving blends of ethanol above 10 percent in gasoline, such as E15.

On February 26, 2015, Sen. Toomey (R-PA) along with Sens. Feinstein (D-CA) and Flake (R-AK) introduced S. 577 – the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015. The bill would amend the Clean Air Act and lift the requirement that ethanol be used as fuel. Presently, the ethanol mandate in the RFS allows dangerously high levels of ethanol, such as E15, into the marketplace. Just weeks prior, on February 5 in the House, Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) along with 34 original cosponsors introduced the RFS Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 704). This bill seeks to prohibit the EPA from approving blends of ethanol above 10 percent in gasoline. On June 17, Senator Cassidy (R-La.) introduced legislation – S. 1584 – to completely repeal the RFS. In the past, similar versions of the legislation have compelled over 220 members from both chambers of Congress to oppose the RFS, and 2015 saw a similar trend in immense bipartisan support.

The EPA, on May 29, 2015 proposed long-anticipated RVOs in compliance with the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. For 2016, the volume of corn-based ethanol to be added to gasoline supplies was set at 14 billion gallons, far beyond what current infrastructure, such as gas stations and car engines, is equipped to handle. The Agency accepted public comment on the proposed final rule until July 30. ASA submitted a letter  expressing disappointment in the excessive ethanol obligations and calling for the reduction in ethanol to protect consumers, such as anglers and boaters.

The release of the EPA’s draft final rule coincided with an announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of $100 million in grants to subsidize installation of E85 blender pumps. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership grants will provide funding to 21 states for infrastructure for 5,000 pumps at 1,400 gasoline retail stations. These investments will more than double the number of stations that offer E15 nationwide. On November 30, the EPA released its final rule on 2014, 2015 and 2016 RFS volume obligations. While the ruling sets volume targets for ethanol below statutory mandates set by Congress in 2007, they are still far afield of consumer demand, making the sale of high ethanol blends ever more likely.

The EPA is legally required to set target volumes in November of the year seceding the affected year but missed that deadline for 2014 and 2015. For 2016, the rule calls for 18.11 billion gallons of total renewable fuels, 14.5 billion gallons of which would come from ethanol. On November 4, 184 U.S. House Representatives sent a letter to EPA Administrator McCarthy requesting relief from the RFS and for biofuel blending not to exceed 10 percent ethanol.

On November 30, 2015 the agency released its final rule on 2014, 2015 and 2016 volume obligations that lay out the target amounts of various renewable fuels the nation must produce. While the ruling sets volume targets for ethanol below statutory mandates set by Congress in 2007, they are still far afield of consumer demand, making the sale of high ethanol blends ever more likely. For 2016, the rule calls for 18.11 billion gallons of total renewable fuels, 14.5 billion gallons of which would come from ethanol. On November 4, 184 U.S. House Representatives sent a letter to EPA Administrator McCarthy requesting relief from the RFS and for biofuel blending not to exceed 10 percent ethanol. In addition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the $100 million Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership will provide funding to 21 states for E15 infrastructure for 5,000 pumps at 1,400 gasoline retail stations. Just in Iowa, the USDA anticipates that 187 new E15 pumps will be installed in the state as the result of this program. This investment will more than double the number of stations that offer intermediate blends of ethanol, mainly E15, nationwide.

In February 2016, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard. Testifying for the EPA were Janet McCabe and Howard Gruenspect from the Energy Information Administration. During the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) asked what the EPA is doing to protect anglers and boaters from the dangers of increased ethanol blends and the availability of safe fuels for marine engines. Also, Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Senator David Vitter (R-La.) both called into question the EPA’s questionable assumption that demand for ethanol-free gasoline has declined. McCabe said the agency would follow-up with information for the senators and repeatedly committed that the EPA would meet its statutory deadline for proposing and finalizing renewable fuel volume requirements for 2017. In May, the EPA announced the 2017 proposed RFS rule boosting the corn ethanol requirement to 14.8 billion gallons. The proposal increases the need for higher blends of ethanol to record levels, which poses serious risk to many types of engines including boat engines. Just prior to the EPA’s announcement, Reps. Flores (R-Texas) and Welch (D-Vt.) introduced H.R. 5180, the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016, which would cap ethanol content in gasoline at 9.7 percent and institute a provision that automatically reverts the annual volume level to the previous year’s percentage standard in the event EPA misses its deadline. Additionally, ASA signed onto a coalition letter to Rep. Upton (R-Mich.) and Pallone (D-N.J.), chair and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce committee, requesting a hearing on the RFS.

For 2017, the EPA has proposed to exceed last year’s volume by 300 million gallons, which would bring total production of ethanol to 14.8 billion gallons and cause concentrations to exceed E10. Keep America Fishing’s campaign on ethanol sparked thousands of anglers to write to the EPA, urging them to lower the ethanol volume obligation for next year. As in 2015, ASA submitted comments in opposition to the proposed increase.

ASA, as part of the Smarter Fuel Future coalition, remains committed to educating the public on the many dangers of the ethanol mandate, while advocating Congress and the Administration to fix this failed policy. For more information, visit smarterfuelfuture.org.