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Letter to the Honorable Lisa Jackson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency


Location: Washington, DC

In light of the Coordinating Research Council's study released yesterday, which showed that gasoline with 15 percent ethanol can cause engine damage, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today is asking Administrator Lisa Jackson if the Environmental Protection Agency remains confident that E15 will not damage car engines in vehicles made 2001 and later.

Last July, Sensenbrenner presented Administrator Jackson with letters from 14 automakers that argued E15 would lower fuel efficiency, damage engines, and void warranties in their vehicles, including those made after 2001. In response to this information, the EPA asserted that "E15 use in these vehicles will not result in damage to their engines."

Congressman Sensenbrenner is Vice Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Text of the letter below:

May 17, 2012

The Honorable Lisa Jackson
The Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Administrator Jackson,

On July 5 of last year, I wrote with concerns regarding the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) registration of fuel containing up to 15 percent ethanol (E15). In that letter, I shared the responses I received from 14 automobile manufacturers who I had asked about E15. They unanimously warned that E15 would damage engines, void warranties, and decrease fuel efficiency. Honda's response was typical: "Vehicle engines were not designed or built to accommodate the higher concentrations of ethanol . . . There appears to be the potential for engine failure."

Responses from small engine manufacturers were even worse. Small engine manufacturers warned that E15 in their engines can be catastrophic. Regarding marine engines, the United States Coast Guard wrote:

Increasing the blend to E-15 can be expected to exacerbate any fuel system deterioration now being reported with E-10 blended gasoline. Fuel leaks such as those addressed above are a serious safety consideration because of the possibility of fuel accumulation in the bilges of these vessels causes an unacceptable level of risk for fire and explosion.

While the EPA did not approve E15 for use in marine and small engines, misfueling is inevitable.

The EPA has moved forward with the registration of E15 in spite of these concerns. Engine manufacturers, fuel retailers, and fuel producers are taking preemptive action. Some 2012 models of cars include a warning on the gas caps advising consumers not to use E15. These manufacturer warnings will directly contradict the EPA's fueling recommendations posted at fueling stations, only increasing the level of consumer confusion surrounding this fuel blend.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation that, if passed, would protect businesses from lawsuits stemming from the use of E15. These businesses argue that they should not be forced to pay for engine damage that arises from selling a fuel that they are mandated to sell. While I sympathize with these concerns, I oppose such legislation because the government should not force a fuel on consumers and then block their recourse from harm. The better approach is to protect consumers from damage in the first place.

A recent report from the Coordinating Research Council (CRC) bolstered the growing concerns surrounding E15. The CRC surveyed existing studies on E15 and conducted engine durability testing. The CRC's survey found serious concerns, including:

A Department of Energy (DOE)-sponsored study found that all gaskets, seals, and o-rings exposed to E15 swelled, and most of them lost important qualities that could result in leaks.
A DOE-sponsored study also found that, on average, about half of the used and new service station equipment failed the compatibility tests.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that "the vast majority of existing retail dispensers in the US are not approved for use with intermediate ethanol blends under OSHA's safety regulations."
Independent testing found that many of the gaskets between the devices and piping failed after 30 days exposure to the test fuel.
The CRC's durability testing also demonstrated the need to protect consumers from E15. Out of eight different tested engines--all of which were approved by EPA for E15--two engines failed the durability test on E15, but passed on E0. This strongly suggests that the ethanol content was the cause of the failure.

I introduced legislation that would require the EPA to contract with the National Academies to commission a comprehensive study on the testing that has been conducted on E15. The questions surrounding E15 are significant and mounting. I urge you to support this legislation and delay further registration of fuels containing 15 percent ethanol until such a study has been completed. The cost of prevention pales in comparison to the potential cost of engine damage.

Please respond to the following questions by June 15, 2012:

1. In response to my previous inquiry, you expressed confidence that E15 would not damage engines and cited DOE testing and CRC reports as support. In light of the new CRC study, does the EPA remain confident that E15 will not damage car engines from vehicle model years of 2001 and later?

2. Does the EPA believe the recent CRC study raises questions sufficient to justify additional testing of E15 before it is approved for commerce? If not, please provide the rationale behind excluding this study from consideration.

3. With the mass introduction of any new fuel into the marketplace, misfueling will inevitably occur. Did the EPA assess how much misfueling is likely to occur under its mitigation policy and how much damage is likely to result?

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.


Vice-Chairman, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

cc: The Honorable Ralph Hall
Chairman, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
Ranking Member, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

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