EPA admits the ethanol mandate has become unrealistic

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A top Environmental Protection Agency official admitted in front of Congress that the federal ethanol blending mandate has put undue requirements on oil companies.

“We’re recognizing that the blend wall has been reached,” Christopher Grundler, head of the EPA’s transportation and air office, told senators in a hearing on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“Reaching the blend wall clearly presents constraints to using higher ethanol quantities because of the infrastructure and other market limitations,” Grundler said.

The RFS requires that refiners blend 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the fuel supply by 2022. The main ethanol used to meet that demand comes from corn, which has driven up food and fuel prices as more of the country’s corn crop is diverted to ethanol production.

Furthermore, refiners have reached what is known as the “blend wall” — the limits of what can be safely blended into the fuel supply before damaging vehicle engines. This has driven up the cost of renewable fuel credits and caused refiners to ship fuel overseas where the RFS does not apply.

The economic and environmental damage has inspired a wide-ranging coalition of refiners, environmentalists, motorist groups and other to pressure Congress to reform the RFS.

“It is harming as many farmers as it helps, is becoming obsolete as an energy independence resource and increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” Scott Faber, president of the Environmental Working Group told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“If you look at the landscape of what we thought we had in 2007 as an energy picture, it’s radically different today,” Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, told TheDCNF. Drevna favors full repeal of the RFS.

“The blend wall is indeed here and will present problems if not addressed,” Drevna added.

The EPA proposed scaling back the RFS in November, easing the pressure on refiners. Many saw it as an implicit admission to the dangers of the “blend wall.”

“The best avenue is repeal and start over,” Drevna said. “You have to look at the reality in 2013, not what they thought the reality would be looking forward from 2007.”

A major worry is that failure to repeal or reform the RFS would mean that more potentially damaging fuel with higher ethanol levels will be sold. Many car companies have said that they will not honor the warranty of any cars that are damaged using E15 gasoline — gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol. Such gasoline has been found to damage car engines as well as the engines for outdoor equipment and recreational vehicles, like motorcycles and motorboats.

There seems to be a bipartisan consensus in favor of reforming the RFS, but there is little political will to do away with it entirely.

“Frankly, there’s not much of a political marketplace for repeal,” Faber said.

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