Biofuels group hits back against criticism on high-ethanol fuel

The chief lobbyist for a biofuels trade group defended a higher-blend ethanol fuel Monday as safe for car engines made in the model year 2001 or later.

AAA last week raised concerns automakers would void warranties for consumers who fill up their tanks with E15, a fuel with a 15-percent ethanol concentration compared with the standard 10 percent.

But Renewable Fuels Association CEO Bob Dinneen said in a CNBC interview that E15 is “absolutely safe” to put in cars.

“There is no evidence to suggest there are any problems with E15. E15 has been the most tested fuel in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Dinneen said in a dueling interview with AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet.

Many auto companies contend that fuels with a higher ethanol content are more corrosive, which they say leads to engine damage.

AAA stirred the debate on E15 last week when it released a survey that showed 95 percent of adults are unaware of the fuel blend.

Darbelnet said he is concerned using the fuel could put consumers at risk, as he said 12 auto firms have policies that allow them to void warranties if drivers use E15.

“I have a dozen letters on my desk from the major auto manufacturers in this country stating ... that the use of E15 in vehicles manufactured prior to 2012 can cause damage to the engines,” Darbelnet said in the dueling CNBC interview.

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When asked whether he disputes those auto firms’ warranty policies for E15, Dinneen answered that Ford and General Motors have begun covering the fuel blend in its newer models.

“Prior to that point, EPA had not allowed E15 to be sold. The fact that you could in 2005 or 2007 anticipate that E15 was going to be sold and thus provide warranty coverage for it means nothing,” Dinneen said.

EPA recently ruled cars made in the 2001 model year or later can use E15 fuel. It also required filling stations to put a prominent black-and-orange label on E15 pumps to alert drivers of the fuel.

Getting E15 widely available on the market is a chief concern for biofuels groups.

Only a handful of gas stations across the country currently sell the fuel. But 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.

Though GM is covering E15 in its new models, a spokeswoman told The Hill last week that it agreed with AAA’s assessment that the fuel could pose a danger to earlier models.

GM, in a sentiment held by other auto companies, said EPA erred by green-lighting E15 sales based on how it affected emissions control systems.

The auto firms argued EPA should have evaluated how the fuel affected the rest of the car, including the engine.