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EPA responds "don't worry, we're warning folks, but we're forcing it on them anyways"

President Obama's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made quite the unpopular decision when it pushed ahead with plans to force E15 -- a blend of fuel with a higher percentage of ethanol; mostly from "dirty" corn sources -- on consumers.  The move came despite an impassioned plea from politicians on both sides of the aisle that warned of dire consequences to livestock farmers and consumer food prices if the measure passed.

I. AAA: Stop This E15 Nonsense

Now the nation's largest travel organization, AAA has joined the critics, pleading the EPA to reconsider its decision to manipulate the market and push more ethanol on consumers.

The AAA made the decision to oppose the E15 rollout after surveying its 53 million members. What it found was somewhat surprising; despite the contentious debate about corn ethanol in the media, 95 percent of members who responded said they had never heard of E15.

AAA ethanol
AAA has petitioned the EPA to stop its E15 rollout. [Image Source: AAA]

The recommendation is also based on a second survey of auto manufacturers, which asserts that just 12 million out of the 240 million light vehicles on the road today are ready for E15.  Chrysler LLC does not certify any of its vehicles (including current models) as being safe to fuel with E15.  While General Motors Comp. (GM) and Ford Motor Comp. (F) certify their current vehicles for E15 use, they explicitly recommend against it for older vehicles, saying it can cause engine damage.

In addition to Chrysler, a number of foreign manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp. (TYO:7203), Nissan Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7201), Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), and Volkswagen AG (ETR:VOW) do not certify their vehicles for E15 use.  In fact, they warn that using E15 in current model year North American vehicles may void your warranty, if the vehicle receives fuel-related damage.

Chrysler, Honda Motor Comp., Ltd. (TYO:7267), Mazda Motor Corp. (TYO:7261), Kia-Hyundai, Daimler AG's (ETR:DAI) luxury imprint Mercedes-Benz, and AB Volvo (OMX:VOLV) all warn that E15 is not covered in their owner manuals and just using it may fully void your warranty coverage.

AAA President and CEO Robert Darbelnet said in a statement to The Detroit News, "It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle.  Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.  The sale and use of E15 should be suspended until additional gas pump labeling and consumer education efforts are implemented to mitigate problems for motorists and their vehicles."

Currently, 95 percent of gas stations nationwide sell E10, a blend that contains ten percent ethanol, a level that automakers say is less caustic to older engines.  In Dec. 2010 the "Big Three" U.S. automakers lost their case before the U.S. Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit, in which they argued against the impending EPA E15 rollout, on the grounds that it would damage their older vehicles.

Last year, the Republican-controlled U.S House of Representatives passed a bill that would have blocked the EPA from enacting the higher blend, but the Democratic-controlled Senate mothballed the bill, refusing to discuss it.  

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) was among the hundreds of federal politicians to sign the petition to the EPA to grant a waiver on the E15 requirement.  He said in a recent statement, "AAA's findings affirm what we have already heard — E15 causes premature engine damage and voids warranties, even on new models.  Concerns about E15 are not diminishing; they are increasing. That is telling. When an organization like AAA, a nationally trusted source for motorists, calls out the EPA, you would think the administration would listen."

II. EPA: We Don't Care

But it appears instead the administration is listening to corn advocates.  The decision to artificially inflate corn demand is a boon for big corn producers like Archer Daniels Midland Comp. (ADM) and ConAgra Foods, Inc. (CAG), which may pocket billions in profits from the manipulation.

corn profits
Big corn donates deeply to federal politiicans, who in turn reward it with billions in subsidies.
[Image Source:]

The EPA in a response to the AAA statement says it is simply not turning back on E15, commenting that instead it will add warnings to gas stations to help "educate" customers.  Comments a spokesperson, "To address these concerns, EPA has been working with AAA and other stakeholders to help inform consumers about the use of E15 and recently required all retailers that sell E15 to label fuel pumps with a prominent orange and black label that EPA developed with the Federal Trade Commission. While EPA does not require retailers to sell E15, the label will help ensure consumers are aware about which vehicles are approved for its use."

Meanwhile Bob Dinneen chief of the corn growers advocacy, the Renewable Fuels Association, blast the AAA and its fellow E15 opponents saying what's good for corn is good for the country.  He comments, "[The AAA protest] reflects a pathetic ignorance of EPA's unprecedented test program before approving E15 for commercial use. The fact is E15 has been the most aggressively and comprehensively tested fuel in the history of the agency."

For consumers whose warranties may soon be voided by the E15 rollout and whose engines may be damaged by it, as well, about the only good news is that there currently isn't much E15 across the country.  Despite the active EPA mandate, only 10 gas stations across the country have adopted the fuel.

Sources: AAA, The Detroit News

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RE: We sure are stupid.
By LordanSS on 12/1/2012 6:55:28 PM , Rating: -1
To be honest, I'm not so sure about the automakers' hoopla about engine damage in their cars.

See, here in Brazil, for decades now we've run what you'd call "E25" in our vehicles. Last year, federal government mandated it to drop to "E20" because we were having issues with our ethanol production and prices were going up (ours is derived from sugar cane, but we also sell a lot of pure ethanol as automotive fuel).

In any case, Ford and GM sell their cars here without issues, and we even have imported models from the US (Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustangs, assorted trucks from both makers) and they all happily run on E20/E25.

Yes, it's true that making ethanol out of corn is quite stupid (not efficient at all), specially since you use it as food and feed for stock. But as far as car engine damage goes, I'm quite skeptical on believing what the automakers are claiming. If it was true, several car models from the same brands would have been breaking down here, and that's not the case.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By HammerFan on 12/1/2012 7:04:14 PM , Rating: 3
It really depends on the fuel trim parameters in each car's ECU in addition to the materials that the engine and fuel system are made out of. If the ECU parameters can't deal with the amount of extra fuel required or the amount of trim is considered outside the normal range, the engine will run very lean causing damage and/ or throw a code. IIRC, Ford has made E85 capable vehicles for quite a while. I think it's signified by the road-and-leaf emblem.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By Lord 666 on 12/2/2012 12:42:01 AM , Rating: 3
GM and Chrysler have made E85 compliant motors as well for since at least 2007. Find it odd that Chrysler now says no.

All this bs about fuel just makes the diesel argument stronger. My 2013 goal is to trade in our only petrol ride for a diesel van or suv so 100% of our household vehicles run diesel. The 2014 milestone is to homebrew some astm biodiesel.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By StevoLincolnite on 12/2/2012 1:46:09 AM , Rating: 3
All this bs about fuel just makes the diesel argument stronger.

Or LPG. :)
Cheaper, burns cleaner, relatively cheap to convert existing vehicles to it, readily available and cheaper to buy.

Costs me less than half the price of regular petroleum with slightly less fuel economy and you can keep the regular petrol tank and double your driving range too.

However, I'm not sure what the US infrastructure is like compared to Australia's when it comes to LPG, but here it's readily available at every petrol station.

I'll never again run a Petrol-only vehicle.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By semo on 12/2/2012 6:38:36 AM , Rating: 2
I will be running on LPG in the next few months but I highly doubt that there is any money to be saved. At today's prices, LPG is only slightly cheaper than petrol because you lose up to 25% efficiency (power remains the same more or less). Also, LPG prices seem to be rising faster than petrol and diesel.

The best way to stick it to OPEC is to run on CNG, waste oil or full electric but unfortunately these technologies are not for me (CNG-no stations in my area; waste oil-can’t afford maintenance of a modern turbo diesel and too much work is required; full electric-too expensive).

RE: We sure are stupid.
By Lord 666 on 12/2/2012 1:42:32 PM , Rating: 3
Sounds a little like "Mad Max." ;)

From pigs and other sources, LPG is renewable. The concern is non-renewable CNG. While the US supposedly has decades of reserves untapped, its only prolonging the inevitable.

What has longer legs (especially in Aus and other bright areas) is taking the NG and connecting it to a solar machine to break down into water, hydrogen, and electricity. Through some purification, the water is potable.

In 10 years, we will be discussing how in the old days water was clean and drinkable unless something is drastically done.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By Lord 666 on 12/2/2012 7:04:34 PM , Rating: 1
Just searched for Chrysler E85 compliant cars and found this

Guess it is technically true or the site is woefully out-of-date with only 2009 and 2010 models listed. Even the Chrysler site cross references a Wikipedia article... more real content than a Mick article ;)

RE: We sure are stupid.
By tecknurd on 12/2/12, Rating: 0
RE: We sure are stupid.
By rdhood on 12/3/2012 2:37:51 PM , Rating: 2
Or LPG. :)

THIS ^. I would be great to have some LPG fill stations, as well as an LPG fill station in my garage. I would never have to fill up at a station again (except for vacations or other extended driving).

RE: We sure are stupid.
By cyberguyz on 12/2/2012 6:37:18 AM , Rating: 1
Absolutely correct on the ECU.

The materials should be ok. Ethanol is far less corrosive than Methanol (the only reason it isn't considered even in small amounts).

My '13 Ford Focus is E95 capable, but my '10 Toyota Venza would need ECU adjustments to handle it.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By knutjb on 12/4/2012 9:57:05 AM , Rating: 3
It is not just an ECU correction, unless your FUEL SYSTEM is designed to handle greater than 10% Ethanol that is what will fail first potentially leading to engine damage from inconsistent fuel mixtures in each cylinder. Ethanol is still very corrosive and unlike when lead was removed from fuel there are no additives to prevent damage. Lead was a valve seat lubricant as well as octane booster.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By darkpuppet on 12/3/2012 2:20:05 PM , Rating: 2
While you're correct that a proper tune is essential to optimum performance, there is one slight difference, Ethanol has a higher stoichiometric ratio than gas, as well as a higher octane.

So putting that in your engine will typically run your engine a bit richer than it needs to be.

Alcohol is about 16:1, while gas is 14:1. Your car's narrowband will always aim for 14:1, when in fact the mixture is happiest at something slightly higher.

So your engine would run a little less efficiently, and the real danger is ethanol's tendency to absorb water which can cause corrosion, or misfire/flooding.

There's no real reason why we couldn't run some form of ethanol in our cars safely -- but current engines aren't really developed for the unique properties of ethanol, and replacing gas with ethanol just results in lower mileage, and a greater amount of wasted fuel.

So not sure how the benefits really outweigh the disadvantages.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By Samus on 12/2/2012 3:32:27 AM , Rating: 2
You are exactly right. This whole dealio is politics and nothing else.

And the politics of forcing E15 on consumers has less to do with damage to their cars and more to do with E15 fuel reduces fuel economy, making it harder for automakers to meet EPA fuel economy requirements.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By freedom4556 on 12/6/2012 10:31:36 PM , Rating: 2
making it harder for automakers to meet EPA fuel economy requirements.

Except that's not true. The EPA specifies pure gas for the tests, making them even further from real world. Furthermore, the Cafe MPG numbers are unadjusted, so they're even higher then what's on the EPA window sticker.

RE: We sure are stupid.
By The0ne on 12/2/12, Rating: -1
RE: We sure are stupid.
By cyberguyz on 12/2/2012 6:24:50 AM , Rating: 2

You are taking the same short view as the American government. That short view being that all NEW cars should be able to handle it.

But of the millions of cars on the road, only about half of them are less than 5 years old.

True that automakers can (and should) be forced to producing new cars that can run on renewable source fuels, but you can't force the owners of the millions of cars out there that have already been designed to use it (i.e. E85 ready cars) to start using gas that would eat their engines. Allowing something like this to pass against the advice from the people that made those cars would be the American government shooting itself in the foot (and possibly see a newly re-elected American president impeached).

Also some food for thought here:

Ethanol contains less energy than Methanol. Methanol has less energy than Gasoline/Petrol. The lower the energy a fuel has, the more of it you need to burn to make the same power. Ethanol has to be burned at a much lower air fuel ratio than gas (injectors set to a richer air/fuel blend). That means you will get half the mileage out of pure ethanol (approx 8 to 1 air/fuel ratio) than you do with gasoline (around 15 to 1). Economy numbers would go down the crapper. The more ethanol you mix in with the petroleum, the worse mileage you will get from it. To burn ethanol at anywhere near the same air/fuel ratio as gasoline, you have to keep the percentage mixed in the gas at a really low percentage. Go higher than that and you have to start adjusting the engine computers richer to compensate (and blow away all those EPA fuel economy targets).

RE: We sure are stupid.
By NellyFromMA on 12/3/2012 4:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
IF people hold onto their current cars for very long, thats not very stimulating economically.

That's about the only (far fetched as it is) logic I can come up with, other than CORNMONOPOLY

RE: We sure are stupid.
By ebakke on 12/4/2012 1:34:37 AM , Rating: 2
True that automakers can (and should) be forced to producing new cars that can run on renewable source fuels, but you can't force the owners of the millions of cars out there that have already been designed to use it (i.e. E85 ready cars) to start using gas that would eat their engines
Why can't you?

You've already shown your willingness to force one group of people into actions they otherwise wouldn't make, and that may be detrimental. Why is another group treated differently?

Or do you know what's "right" for everyone?

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