EPA Holds Off on Allowing More Ethanol in Gasoline

Because increased ethanol content may cause more pollution and damage older vehicles, leading science group says the Environmental Protection Agency made the right call.

| December 1, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to postpone approving any increase in the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline until it can determine its impact “puts science first,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). More ethanol in gasoline could increase tailpipe pollution or damage older vehicles, the group says.

Today’s EPA announcement was in response to a petition from Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group that had asked the agency to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline from the current level of 10 percent to 15 percent.

“The Obama administration is respecting the role of science and resisting industry pressure to put private interests ahead of public health and the environment,” says Jeremy Martin, a senior scientist in UCS’ Clean Vehicles Program. “Raising ethanol blend percentages without testing what it would do to air quality and vehicle engines is like going in for surgery before getting a diagnosis. It wouldn’t be good for the industry or the environment to rush ahead only to find out later that we guessed wrong.”

Most vehicles on the road today are not certified to operate on ethanol blends higher than 10 percent, Martin says. It is not clear how light-duty car engines or boat engines, for example, would perform with higher blends. The EPA and the Department of Energy are testing engines to answer this question.

Any decision by the agency to increase ethanol blend limits should be based on a complete analysis of how blends above 10 percent (E10) would affect gasoline engines, public health, the environment and consumers, Martin says. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to demonstrate that increasing the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline would not worsen air quality or threaten public health.

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