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Lugar urges ethanol ruling

Wants EPA to raise content to 15% of gasoline


– The campaign to delay or even derail a proposed increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline sold at U.S. pumps is misguided, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said Wednesday.

Two environmental groups have joined with the oil industry to lobby Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency against a proposal to increase the amount of ethanol in gas to 15 percent. The EPA has said it will announce by the end of September whether tests show that newer car engines can handle fuel with 15 percent ethanol.

Currently, most gas sold in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol, the maximum amount of ethanol allowed in conventional gas. (Gas sold with 85 percent ethanol – called E85 – is an alternative fuel sold at some stations.)

Last year, the ethanol industry has asked the EPA to increase the 10 percent cap to 15 percent. The agency ordered tests from the Energy Department on whether late-model and older cars can use gas with 15 percent ethanol without damaging their engines. It said the results on engines in 2007 and newer-model cars will be in, and the decision made, in September. Tests on engines from 2001 to 2006 will be completed in December.

Lugar has long been an advocate of a more robust biofuels policy in the U.S. because it would lead to more home-grown fuel and less reliance on imported oil.

He said enough time has elapsed, and the EPA should not delay its decision past September.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has taken extra time to make their decision on raising the allowable ethanol blend level. More than adequate attention has been paid to concerns that might arise. Further delay is unwarranted,” Lugar said.

“We need to move forward with integrating biofuels into our transportation fuel supply. We also need to have new vehicles be flexible fuel so consumers can use gasoline or fuels that include up to 85 percent ethanol. These are important steps to reducing our dependency on foreign oil,” he said.

The coalition – which includes environmental groups, the oil industry, grocery stores, small-engine manufacturers and food manufacturers – says using corn to make ethanol increases food prices because it diverts corn used for food and livestock feed and encourages farmers to plant on fragile land. They say it harms engines because ethanol burns hotter than gas.

Ethanol can be made from many crops; typically corn is used to create the additive, which reduces the amount of fossil fuel in gasoline.

The Indiana Department of Agriculture estimates that 38 percent of all Indiana-grown corn was made into ethanol last year, slightly more than the 30 percent of the entire U.S. corn crop that is converted to ethanol.

The groups have taken out ads in Washington publications that most lawmakers see.

“More corn ethanol in our gasoline would lead to more dangerous pollutants coming out our tailpipes and ending up in our lungs, cause more forests to be cut down for planting, put fragile lands under the tractor and use up scarce water resources,” said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

He said using fuel with a higher percentage of ethanol in older cars could lead to the failure of catalytic converters, creating more air pollution.

Greene said if the EPA allows the 85-15 gas in newer cars but not older cars, “it would be very hard to implement that at the pump in a way that wouldn’t lead to a lot of misfueling.”

Other members of the coalition say an increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline would hurt small engines used in power mowers, boats and motorcycles.

“None of the 200 million pieces of outdoor power equipment in use today were designed, built or warranted to run on any fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol,” said Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

He said Energy Department tests on outdoor equipment showed that gas with 15 percent ethanol produced “increased heat, performance irregularities, unintentional clutch engagement and failure.”

Meanwhile, three farm and ethanol groups wrote to the EPA this week to suggest a compromise – an 88-12 blend of gas and ethanol.

The American Coalition for Ethanol, the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association said that “based on the EPA’s delay in acting upon the full E15 waiver and on our concerns that the Agency will restrict the use of E15 to cars made in 2001 and thereafter, we encourage the EPA to formally approve the use of E12 for all motor vehicles as an immediate interim step pending any on-going additional testing on E15.”

EPA press secretary Adora Andy said the agency is “doing its job to ensure that science and the law – rather than pressure from special interest groups – determine the outcome.”