Is E15 Today's MTBE?

Group says N.H. verdict highlights problems with EPA approvals; statement called "reckless"

Charles Drevna

WASHINGTON -- Comparing the regulatory situation with that of the E15 gasoline-ethanol blend, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) President Charles T. Drevna has responded to the recent New Hampshire verdict in a case against Exxon Mobil Corp. over the use of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

A jury found Exxon Mobil Corp. liable Tuesday in a long-running lawsuit over groundwater contamination by the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), and ordered the oil company to pay $236 million to New Hampshire to clean it up.

In a statement, he said:

"The EPA has twice approved MTBE as an acceptable gasoline additive. More than 30 years later a jury labeled it a defective product, leaving the petroleum industry to clean up the problems created by EPA's approval and congressional mandates that limited industry flexibility. As inequitable as this sounds, the scenario is about to be repeated.

"EPA recently approved E15, a mid-level ethanol blend, for use in new motor vehicles. EPA based this approval on a study of certain automobile emissions control systems, while ignoring evidence that the alternative fuel damages other engine components and is incompatible with fuel delivery systems. So, will EPA stand behind ethanol in the face of potential engine damage claims and leaking fuel tanks? Political decisions are easy when there is someone else available to clean up the mess.

"The unfair outcome of the MTBE lawsuit should be a wakeup call for Congress that the long-ranging and detrimental impacts of the RFS ethanol mandate will fall squarely upon consumers, engine manufacturers and the oil industry. EPA's unwillingness to defend its decisions is further evidence that the Renewable Fuel Standard should be repealed."

The AFPM also has come out in support of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) Elimination Act, legislation with bipartisan support that would repeal the RFS.

"The Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act recognizes that betting on the RFS to work is like betting against reality, eventually you lose. The RFS was founded upon baseless assumptions and now eight years later, the reality is that there is no fix for this broken program, which is why AFPM fully supports the elimination legislation," Drevna said.

The group filed formal comments detailing the problems and harmful consequences caused by the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed rule Regulation of Fuels & Fuel Additives: 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

"Despite the fact that the Energy Independence & Security Act of 2007 (EISA) provides EPA tools to adjust the volumes of renewable fuels in response to market conditions and amid an environment of declining gasoline demand, the agency has refused to utilize flexibility provided under the law to reduce the amount of ethanol that will be mandated under the RFS and continues to set cellulosic biofuel standards that are divorced from reality."

He said, "I have long asserted that the RFS is broken and is harmful to countless parties, but nothing has been done to address the problems it has created. What is needed today is a rational and objective approach to deal with the consequences of the RFS, instead of the biased decisions that have marked this failed policy since its inception."

AFPM pointed out the severe economic harm that would result from a mandate to blend ethanol in amounts exceeding 10% of the gasoline supply. Independent studies have confirmed that mid-level ethanol blends will damage existing gasoline engines and fuel delivery infrastructure, it said. AFPM called upon the EPA to use its existing authority to waive the RFS requirements in the face of these technological realities.

Calling Drevna's comparison of MTBE and E15 "a reckless, revisionist statement," Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), said, "AFPM and the oil companies are living in a fantasy parallel universe if they think they can revise history to tarnish E15 and the RFS."

In a statement, he said:

"MTBE did not go through the same 211F waiver process that E15 did. MTBE did not undergo six million miles of testing like E15 did. The oil companies pushed 15% MTBE approval under a much less-rigorous waiver process that did not require the robust emissions and drivability testing that E15 has successfully completed.

"Oil companies also did not conduct extensive 211(b) health effects testing prior to the registration of MTBE for commercial use. Oil companies chose MTBE over biodegradable ethanol because it was a product they produced and it increased their profits. In fact, they used MTBE to keep ethanol out of the market because the two fuels could not be used together. Unfortunately, MTBE was not compatible with the fuel distribution system. It leaked from tanks and quickly migrated to drinking water supplies.

"MTBE is toxic. Oil companies losing the court case in New Hampshire screams a dire warning that oil companies should not be trusted with our energy future. Oil companies have a disturbing track record of putting their monopoly ahead of innovation and progress, and their profits ahead of consumer pocketbooks. AFPM's pernicious campaign against ethanol and the RFS, as reflected in this latest attempt to blame EPA for the oil company's investment in toxic MTBE to be used as another rock to throw at America's most successful biofuel and energy policy is just the latest, sad, desperate example."

The RFA represents the U.S. ethanol industry.

The AFPM is a trade association representing American manufacturers of the U.S. supply of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, other fuels, home heating oil and petrochemicals.