Legislation introduced in the Senate on Thursday (Feb. 14), seeks to block an increase in the amount of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline. The bill would overturn EPA waivers that allowed gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) to be used for many passenger cars and light trucks.

Offered by Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the bill would address “the higher blend of ethanol has been found to cause engine damage, reduce fuel efficiency, and contribute to higher corn prices and rising food costs for American consumers,” said a Wicker press release. “The Wicker-Vitter bill would prohibit the EPA Administrator from granting any waiver for a blend above 10 percent ethanol and would repeal the previous waivers.”

Wicker, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “EPA’s flawed waivers allowing E15 amount to government bureaucrats issuing short-sighted regulations that negatively impact families and businesses across the country. The concerns surrounding E15 that existed prior to the waivers have increased instead of diminishing.”

“Whether you drive a car, truck, boat, or tractor, misfueling with E15 could result in engine failure, increased emissions, and the voiding of warranty coverage,” said Vitter. “It is irresponsible for EPA to allow E15 without sufficient testing and technical analysis. I support an all-inclusive energy strategy, but experimenting before understanding the consequences and potential cost of using E15 is unfair to consumers.”

EPA issued two waivers to permit the use of E15. The first, in 2010, was for use in cars and light trucks model year 2007 or later. The second, in 2011, allowed E15 to be used in vehicles model year 2001 to 2006.

A copy of the Wicker-Vitter bill can be found here

Renewable fuels backers immediately lambasted the legislation.

“By attempting to prohibit the use of renewable fuel in gasoline above current levels, they are transparently carrying out the oil industry’s agenda of trying to suffocate the competition in order to protect their record profits,” Fuels America said in a press release.”

The bill “would take choice out of consumers’ hands in order to protect the power that oil companies have over American pocketbooks,” Fuels America continued.

“The legislation ignores the millions of miles and years of testing that went into the EPA’s approval of E15. In fact, E15 is the most tested fuel ever, having been put through the paces enough times to make 12 round trips to the moon.

“Meanwhile, auto makers like Ford and GM have approved E15 for use in their new vehicles and some of the world’s most demanding cars and drivers at NASCAR use E15 as well.

“Instead of protecting oil companies, Congress should address what is actually hurting America families and businesses: high gas prices and dependence on oil. Using renewable fuel last year reduced the need for imported oil by more than 465 million barrels, and saving the U.S. $47.2 billion. Using E10 reduced the cost of gasoline by $1.09 per gallon in recent years, and opening up the market to more of this cleaner, low-cost fuel will only increase the potential for more savings.”

Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), also weighed in. “Clearly the motivation behind the legislation introduced by Senators Wicker and Vitter is fueled by emotion and loyalty to home state oil constituents. Now that ethanol represents ten percent of the American fuel supply and growing, oil companies are panicked. They are fighting to preserve their monopoly, their unfair and outrageously expensive tax credits, and most of all, their record breaking profits. Ethanol is no longer a gnat nipping at their precious ankles. It is a threat to the oil-centric status quo. The RFA and the ethanol producers we represent would welcome a chance to meet with Senators Wicker and Vitter to explain the benefits of E15 and dispel myths and any lingering doubts.

“The facts are these: E15 is the most tested fuel in history with over six million test miles driven and no faults found. Expanded E15 use means healthier people and a cleaner environment. Ethanol displaces many of the toxins and carcinogens found in traditional gasoline while delivering benefits such as a 35 to 49 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Senators who represent Gulf states certainly don't need to be reminded of the environmental hazards of oil production. They, in particular, should appreciate a fuel alternative that is biodegradable and water-soluble.

“If improving conditions for families and businesses is indeed a primary concern then ethanol is the answer, not the problem. Ethanol biorefineries are at their heart small businesses employing on average 30 to 50 people while creating opportunities for other local small businesses in surrounding communities. In 2012, the ethanol industry created and supported 380,000 jobs across this country. Jobs that can’t be outsourced. And as the next generation of ethanol comes online, additional jobs are being in created outside the Midwest in states like Mississippi.” Dinneen continued, “On the finer point of families, ethanol is providing the fuel choice consumers desire while also helping them save money. Last year ethanol delivered a $1.09 per gallon savings, which translates into a meaningful annual savings of $1,200 per average American household.”

Dinneen concluded, “As for AAA and concerns about car warranties, one has to wonder why the alarm over a handful of gas stations offering E15 in the Midwest when hundreds of gas stations in numerous mountain states are offering sub-octane fuel, which knowingly violates vehicle warranties and has been proven by the auto industry to cause vehicle failures, is allowed to continue. Where is the federal legislation to protect American drivers from sub-standard gasoline? What role do oil companies and their powerful political dollars play in supporting and killing legislation, which impacts their well-lined pockets? Big Oil vs. Small Town Biofuels, the David and Goliath story never gets old. In today’s version, it is E15 that pains the giant.”