Ethanol supporters say House panel testimony one-sided
The hearing Tuesday in the House Science Subcommittee on the Environment consisted of testimony from the head of the American Automobile Association, a vice president with the American Motorcyclist Association and a member of the board of directors from the Coordinating Research Council, a nonprofit that has the American Petroleum Institute, Ford and General Motors as its members.
“This hearing appears to be in line with several other hearings you have held over the past two years regarding mid-level ethanol blends and specifically E15,” Tom Buis, chief executive of Growth Energy, said in a letter to the House Science subcommittee. “We are concerned that these hearings have only presented one side of the story only highlighting witnesses who have been some of our most vocal critics and have failed to include any representatives of the ethanol production industry.”
In a separate letter, Bob Dinneen, head of the Renewable Fuel Association, said the panel’s hearing on the “science” of ethanol and specifically the newer E15 blend “seems inexplicably one-sided and devoid of impartial discourse about the science.” E15 is a blend of motorfuel that contains 15 percent of the corn-based fuel.
The ethanol groups told the subcommittee in their letters that E15 is a voluntary fuel and there is no mandate requiring retailers to sell or consumers to purchase it. The trade groups also touted the safety of E15 in automobiles and noted the savings consumers see at the pump because of ethanol.
Growth Energy cited a recent Louisiana State University study that estimated the fuel saved U.S. drivers 83 cents a gallon in 2011.
An aide with the House Science Committee defended the witnesses that were invited.
“The hearing is not about corn growers or the ethanol industry — it is to examine the potential impact of E15 on engines and fuel supply infrastructure, and identify associated research needs,” the aide said. “The witnesses we invited have expertise on and concerns with these issues.”
Little use yet of E15
Most gasoline sold at fuel stations across the country contains 10 percent ethanol. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval last June for the E15 blend to be sold at gas stations, but only a handful of retailers offer it because of the time and cost it takes to comply with the new requirements. The blend has been approved for use in cars and light trucks from the 2001 model year onward, but it is banned from older vehicles and light equipment such boats or lawnmowers.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents 500 oil and natural gas companies, and other E15 critics have said the EPA acted irrationally in approving the fuel and did so before it had sufficiently studied E15’s effect on automobiles. The API has challenged E15 and the Renewable Fuel Standard in court.
Claims of damage
Opponents of E15 have said the fuel will damage some car engines and could lead to erratic or misleading fuel gauge readings, such as by showing a gas tank was full when it’s empty, or by causing the fuel pump to break down, stopping the flow of fuel to the engine.
The Renewable Fuel Standard — an 8-year-old law that required refiners to produce alternative fuels from corn, soybeans and other products in an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil — has been widely criticized as being outdated and ripe for an overhaul by Congress.
The standard was attacked last summer during the drought by livestock groups, the restaurant industry, state governors and others who said consumers were paying more at the grocery store because corn was being siphoned off to produce ethanol instead of being used for food or livestock feed.
Many of these groups were part of a letter sent Tuesday to Sens. Roger Wicker, Miss., and David Vitter, La., supporting legislation introduced by the Southern Republicans that would block an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline, a move that would effectively overturn the EPA’s approval of E15. The bill also would ban the EPA from approving an ethanol blend higher than 10 percent in the future.
“Your legislation is a common sense measure that will mitigate the effects of this ill-conceived decision” by the EPA to support E15, the American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council and 35 other organizations said in the letter.
A cut in ethanol output would be a blow to major producers such as South Dakota, the fifth largest producer in 2011, according to the most recent data.