A long-time Senate voice for ethanol says the commercial future of 15% ethanol blended gasoline - E-15 - rests with the Environmental Protection Agency and liability protection. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, suggests EPA's approval last week of ethanol maker applications for registration of E-15 may not guarantee commercial availability in the short-term.
Registration is required before commercial sale, but Grassley says so are pump labeling and other steps, including liability protections.
"I think the major problem is the extent to which EPA requires notification on pumps," Grassley said. "That you can't use it in an older car, but somebody uses it in an older car and they can sue the gasoline company, or the ethanol company or the local entrepreneur."
Grassley argues unless the companies are protected from lawsuits they don't want to sell E-15.
"Unless EPA could issue a ruling saying that if you have proper notice up and the consumer uses it against the law, then they can't sue," Grassley said. "I don't think you are going to get EPA to do it, but I think that is what is holding the whole process up."
Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, whose group first petitioned EPA for E-15 approval, cautioned last year that the road to commercializing the blend would be long and hard.
"This is more like a marathon as compared to a sprint race," Buis said. "We have to clear every hurdle as they come about and we still have some state regulatory hurdles to clear, we still have to wait on EPA on the labeling rule and what is going to be required at the pumps."
Auto industry trade groups have already brought suit in federal court, challenging EPA's E-15 approval for newer model vehicles as a violation of the Clean Air Act. Grassley says unless Congress passes liability protection for E-15 sales he doesn't know how the problem will be solved.