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EPA Ethanol Rule Disputed by Carmakers

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author photo by Autotrader May 2010

What the automotive world has here is a clash of interests. Oil companies need to meet the demands of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding quotas of renewable fuels or face fines. The EPA has declared that in the next few weeks, it would let those companies increase the proportion of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent, so that oil companies might meet those quotas.

And carmakers don't like it. They say ethanol can damage cars and may actually cause more pollution. They have carried out their own tests and found that ethanol can confuse exhaust control systems, making the engines run too hot, which in turn damages some internal parts and destroys catalytic converters. Of course, a dud catalytic converter can't do its job of cleaning up a car's emissions. C. Coleman Jones, General Motors' head of biofuel implementation was blunt when speaking for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers: "You will be walking, eventually," he said.

Maybe not, counter the ethanol producers, who have been lobbying for this raise. They say most cars won't have a problem with 15 percent ethanol and the USA needs to cut down on its need for foreign oil. That's not the same as saying 'all' cars will run OK on 15 percent ethanol.

The automakers have asked the EPA to put off a decision until 2011, after more tests can be done. But so far, the EPA hasn't said whether it will grant that request.

Ethanol is produced primarily from corn. Therefore a lot of agricultural acreage is given up to the energy industry. And the ethanol-making process burns fuel from sources such as propane gas, natural gas, coal, electricity, and diesel – making the energy it gives out hardly greater than the energy it consumes.

There's also a more pragmatic argument against this move. Tom Elam, president of FarmEcon LLC, has said: "Increasing the maximum blend of ethanol in gasoline, combined with higher 2010 Renewable Fuels Standard requirements, will increase cost pressures on both ethanol and food producers."

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EPA Ethanol Rule Disputed by Carmakers - Autotrader