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Environmental

EPA plays Solomon in terms of ethanol standard for gasoline

Prior posts have noted the debate over ethanol, including whether it is a renewable fuel, the failure to account for production of N2O as a byproduct of the farming of inputs, and the concern by manufacturers of automobiles and engines that ethanol in excess of 10% may be harmful to the integrity of engines and emission control systems. Also, as noted in prior posts, the ethanol industry has been suffering financially. Thus, it should be no surprise that the ethanol industry, relying on The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, has pushed for ever higher ethanol levels in fuel. Growth Energy and other ethanol producers have pushed for 15%, and some producers and their lobbyists have promoted 20%.
 
EPA has now made known its view that the 10% standard should be maintained to serve "older vehicles" even if EPA grants the requested waiver under the CAA for 15% ethanol. EPA has until approximately November 2009 to act on the petition requesting a waiver of the 10% standard under the CAA, and to permit 15% ethanol in "gasoline". However, the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group, views such a compromise with horror. In contrast, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers views anything above 10% as an invitation for disaster ("would create a tremendous opportunity for misfueling") and thus engine and fuel line failures.
 
Overhanging this debate, of course, is whether ethanol would qualify as a renewable fuel under the 2007 Act. As noted in prior posts, there is no dearth of academic skepticism that ethanol meets this standard. EPA recently announced its methodology for assessing whether any biofuel would be deemed renewable. See http://www.epa.gov/EPA-AIR/2009/May/Day-26/a10978a.htm. Needless to say, ethanol's proponents are very concerned, and are seeking to eliminate from the life-cycle assessment any evaluation of the "indirect" climatic effects of farming ethanol's inputs. Again, it bears repeating, no one, not even EPA, is considering the increased production of N2O that has arisen from such farming operations, and the extent to which it will increase with the expansion of ethanol production by those means currently used.
 
In any case, if more transportation sector efficiency is desired, as well as such freedom as is practical from foreign oil sources, then plug-in hybrids would appear to be the most reasonable compromise and course of action, at least for the next decade. Since such vehicles would approach the equivalent of 120-150 mpg, or more, the transportation sector could be considered weaned from its hydrocarbon addiction as more and more of such vehicles came into use. This alone would be no mean feat.