With everyone so revved up about rulings on same-sex marriage and the Voting Rights Act, a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down last week got little notice.
But in declining to hear a case brought by automakers and consumers, the court could have a lasting impact on what you put into your gas tank. A higher blend of ethanol — 15 percent, or E15 — could soon be clogging up your fuel system.
“The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a case that charged federal regulators allowed a mid-level ethanol fuel blend onto the market without proper testing,” The Hill reported last week. “The move preserves a space at the gas pump for E15 fuel, a mix comprised of 15 percent ethanol — compared with the standard 10 percent — and 85 percent petroleum by leaving intact a 2009 Environmental Protection Agency ruling that E15 is safe to use in cars made in 2001 or later.”
The Renewable Fuels Association declared victory: “The uncertainty created by this lawsuit has chilled commercial activity that would provide American consumers more affordable choices at the pump,” the group said.
But that’s not true. Higher ethanol blends will cause the price of fuel to skyrocket.
According to some calculations, ethanol mandates could cause diesel prices to rise by as much as 300 percent, and gasoline prices to jump 30 percent.
The American Automobile Association has called for the federal government to lift those mandates, because only about 5 percent of cars and trucks are approved to use E15. Other vehicles, the group says, will see accelerated engine wear and failure and fuel-system damage.
“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility that many motorists may improperly fill up using this gasoline and damage their vehicle,” says Robert Darbelnet, AAA president. “Bringing E15 to the market without adequate safeguards does not responsibly meet the needs of consumers.”
Three other groups came together to challenge the government on E15.
“Three trade groups — the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers — had petitioned the Supreme Court to consider whether the EPA did enough testing before permitting sales of E15,” The Hill notes. “Automakers say the agency only evaluated E15’s impact on vehicle emissions control systems, but not engines. Food groups say E15 would encourage more corn-ethanol production, in turn raising crop prices. And fuel organizations say installing E15 pumps will be costly for gas station owners.”
Another problem here is that ethanol doesn’t even accomplish what it’s supposed to do — reduce our reliance on imported oil. That’s because it takes more energy to produce ethanol (planting, fertilizing, harvesting the corn, and converting it into fuel) than it produces. It takes 29 percent more fossil fuel to make corn ethanol than is produced.
Congress can still act. There’s currently a bill before the House requiring the EPA to study E15’s effects. Such a study would clearly show ethanol is a nonstarter.