In August, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by automakers and other groups seeking to overturn the EPA’s previous approval of E15 automotive fuel containing 50% more ethanol. Brought forth by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Global Automakers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the petroleum industry, the suit charged that the provision would likely cause a “concrete” and “imminent” injury to any automaker, refiner or food processor.

The majority opinion held by Chief Justice David Sentelle and Judge David Tatel, found that the petitioners lacked standing to sue, arguing that refiners and food producers are not injured because EPA is merely giving refiners the “option” to switch from E10 to E15…not a requirement to do so. Yet in practical terms, this is a distinction without any difference, since increased use of ethanol mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) will essentially force them to do so.

The Energy and Security Act requires that a certain amount of “renewable” fuel must be introduced into the market each year, an amount that will rise to 36 billion gallons in 2022. EPA regulations identify petroleum refiners and importers as “obligated” parties to bring this about. The only way to meet this arbitrary quota is to add more ethanol made from corn to the mix…an additional 7 billion gallons annually.

So what does this mean to you? Possibly more than you realize. Let’s consider a few reasons why.

1) Ethanol Yields Lousy and Expensive Gas Mileage:

Ethanol is certainly no bargain. Although it typically sells for less than gasoline, a gallon of ethanol yields only 67% of its net energy, meaning about one-third fewer miles per gallon. On that basis, it has never been competitively priced.

According to a study prepared by FarmEcon, ethanol E10 already added about $14.5 billion in automotive fuel costs during 2011 due to higher energy costs and negative effect on fuel mileage. This amounted to about 10 cents more for each gallon of U.S. gasoline. Ethanol tax credits (since discontinued), added another 4 cents/gallon.

2) E15 May Nullify Your Car Warranty:

Ethanol (grain alcohol) is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs large amounts of water molecules that combine with petroleum to cause premature rust. It is also a powerful solvent that attacks rubber seals and plastic parts used in engine components, causing them to dissolve, stretch and wear out, or become dry and brittle.

While EPA says tests show that E15 won’t harm 2001 and newer vehicles, that claim is disputed. According to findings of the Coordinating Research Council and other organizations, as many as 5 million cars manufactured since 2001 could have engines damaged by running hotter fuel. Two (Toyota and Lexus), have put labels on gas caps warning that their engines are not designed to operate with E15, and that they won’t be held responsible for damage caused by higher blend gasoline.

A cautionary note from the National Automobile Dealers Association states that “If drivers mistakenly put E15 in their tanks and their vehicles aren’t designed to burn it, they could risk damaging their engines. Car and truck owners may contact their dealership’s service department to determine any fuel restrictions.”

3) E15 Approval Violates EPA’s Own Clean Air Act Statute:

The Clean Air Act prohibits manufacturers of fuel or fuel additives from introducing products into commerce for use in car models made after 1974 unless it is “substantially similar” to certain fuels already in use (which E15 clearly isn’t), but can wave this prohibition if EPA determines that it will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system over the useful life of the vehicle or engine. Yet the EPA issued a “partial waiver” for E15…allowing E15 use to apply to vehicles made after 2000. Dissenting Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh pointed out that this is in clear violation of the statute, since even EPA acknowledged that E15 will likely contribute to the failure of some cars made between 1975 and 2000.

4) Ethanol Plays Havoc with Boat Engines and Fiberglass Gas Tanks:

Ethanol tends to dissolve and release corrosive matter (gunk) such as resins, varnish and rust which contaminates fuel and travels through marine engines to clog filters, carburetor jets and injectors. Since boats live in a water environment, and ethanol (alcohol) loves to absorb water, use of ethanol above E10 invalidates all marine warranties.

A particularly troublesome issue for boat and fishing enthusiasts is ethanol decomposition of fiberglass gas tanks. The usual fix involves tank replacement, often a costly and time-consuming project, although lining or sealing a tank is sometimes possible for added protection.

5) The Alcohol Wrecks Small Engines:

Using ethanol blends in 2-stroke engines such as mowers and chainsaws results in a low octane mix (lean fuel) which can destroy them. Referring to E10 ethanol, Rich Herder, owner of a lawnmower repair business in Westfield, New Jersey, reported to Popular Mechanics that “It’s the biggest disaster to hit gasoline in my lifetime.” He estimates that as much as 75% of his repair work results from use of the blend.

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