AAA asks EPA to stop sales of high-ethanol fuel

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AAA conducted a survey and found that 95 percent of people had not heard of E15. The group said that is worrisome because many automakers refuse to honor warranties for wear and tear from the higher ethanol fuel blend.

EPA told The Hill that it "shares AAA's concern over consumer awareness of the use of E15." 

The agency noted it has worked with AAA and other stakeholders to heighten the fuel's profile. It also recently required filling stations to use a "prominent" orange and black label to designate pumps that use E15.

"While EPA does not require retailers to sell E15, the label will help ensure consumers are aware about which vehicles are approved for its use," EPA said.

The Renewable Fuels Association accused AAA of acting as a conduit for oil firms. Bob Dinneen, the association’s CEO, said petroleum groups want to defeat E15 because it cuts into oil’s market share.

“If AAA weren’t so deep in the 'Big Oil' politics, they would stop manufacturing concern about the efficacy of ethanol blend use and report enthusiastically about ethanol’s consumer gasoline price savings,” Dinneen said in a Friday statement.

Getting E15 widely available on the market is a chief concern for biofuels groups — the industry must hit accelerating ethanol blending targets established by the renewable fuel standard, and doing so with 10 percent ethanol blends will likely be untenable after 2013.

Dinneen argued that E15 is “the most aggressively and comprehensively tested fuel in the history of” the EPA.

Dinneen also said automakers are now starting to manufacture cars to handle E15.

General Motors vehicles model years 2012 and newer, as well as 2013 model-year Ford vehicles, permit use of E15.

Still, GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel said the automaker agrees with AAA that public awareness is lacking. She said EPA was being "irresponsible" by permitting the use of E15 without evaluating the fuel's effects on the entire car.

"We have the same opinion, the same view as what AAA has so eloquently put in their release," Basel told The Hill on Friday.

AAA noted BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen do not cover damage from E15 under their warranties. Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 damage might void warranties, according to AAA.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said that leaves a majority of motorists vulnerable, and like AAA, called for the National Academy of Sciences to study E15.

“Concerns about E15 are not diminishing, they are increasing. That is telling. When an organization like AAA, a nationally trusted source for motorists, calls out the EPA, you would think the Administration would listen,” he said in a Friday statement.

— This story was updated at 1:33 p.m.