Report: House votes 'overwhelmingly' to block E15 fuel
Washington— The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from moving ahead with allowing a higher blend of ethanol in the nation's gas tanks.
Just before 2 a.m. today, the House voted 286-135 to block the EPA from spending any money to carry out a waiver to allow E15 to be sold at the nation's fueling stations. Currently, most gas stations sell E10 — which is 10 percent ethanol.
The EPA has granted a waiver to allow a blend of 15 percent of ethanol to be sold for vehicles from the 2001 model year and newer.
Rep. John Sullivan, R-Oklahoma, introduced an amendment to the bill to fund government operations through Sept. 30, to block EPA from moving ahead.
"The EPA has completely ignored calls from lawmakers, industry, environmental and consumer groups to address important safety issues raised by the 50 percent increase in the ethanol mandate issued over the past year. Putting E15 into our general fuel supply could adversely impact up to 60 percent of cars on the road today leading to consumer confusion at the pump and possible engine failure in the cars they drive," Sullivan said.
A separate amendment approved by the House would end a tax subsidy so fuel stations could install pumps that can dispense varying amounts of gasoline and ethanol.
The Renewable Fuels Association — a trade association representing ethanol producers — criticized the moves. "The fact remains ethanol is a thoroughly tested, safe, and effective motor fuel. Americans spend nearly $1 billion a day importing oil, often from hostile regions of the world," the group said. "The House has denied consumers choice in the type of fuel they use. Instead, they have chosen to continue giving oil companies a virtual monopoly over the fueling system."A coalition of trade associations — including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association representing General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and eight other automakers — urged Congress to approve the amendment.
Most Michigan members backed the Sullivan amendment including Reps. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.
Some Michigan members, including some representing corn growers, opposed the amendment, including Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, and Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint.
Other groups that urged Congress to act to bar the increase include the American Bakers Association; American Meat Institute; American Petroleum Institute; National Petrochemical & Refiners Association; National Turkey Federation; Outdoor Power Equipment Institute; and Specialty Equipment Market Association.
"Protection of the environment and the nation's motorists must take precedence over the politics of biofuels," the groups wrote in a letter this week. "Simply stated, this amendment will call a halt to EPA's headlong rush to introduce E15 at least until unbiased and independent testing on the impact of E15 on vehicle and the environment can be completed." Automakers have expressed concerns about using a higher percentage of the ethanol blend that could corrode engines.
Before E15 can be sold, the EPA must finalize a labeling rule to warn consumers that the higher blend is only for certain vehicles.
All major automakers, including Detroit's Big Three, filed suit in December in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to block a federal plan to allow fuel stations to start selling E15. Boat manufacturers and lawn equipment makers joined automakers in the suit.
Allowing E15 use in a small subset of engines on the road, opponents argue, places consumers at high risk of unknowingly or mistakenly putting E15 in products for which it has not been approved.
Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade group, petitioned the EPA in March 2009 to raise the limit on ethanol in gasoline.
They argue ethanol helps the U.S. reduce foreign oil dependence, keeps more money at home and creates thousands of jobs.
The Senate must still pass its own version of a spending bill, where ethanol has strong support, especially in large corn growing states. Congress must approve a new spending measure by March 4, or the government would be forced to shut down.