Oil and gas industry steps up ethanol fuel fight at Supreme Court

The oil and gas industry’s leading trade association renewed its call on Tuesday for the Supreme Court to strike down Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations allowing a high-ethanol fuel blend into the marketplace.

The action is the latest salvo in an ongoing legal battle between the Obama administration and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which first urged the high court in February to take up consideration of the EPA’s decision to approve E15 fuel for cars made in 2001 or after.

The agency and the biofuels industry say the blend — which contains 15 percent ethanol, rather than the standard 10 percent — is safe for those vehicles.

But the oil and gas industry has produced studies finding that the mix would damage vehicle engines, and some automakers have said they would not honor warranties in cases where E15 was used.

“E15 could leave millions of consumers with broken down cars and high repair bills,” said Bob Greco, API group downstream director. “It could also put motorists in harm’s way when vehicles break down in the middle of a busy highway. We are asking the Supreme Court to step in and protect consumers by striking down EPA’s dangerous E15 mandate before it’s too late.”

Specifically, the group is asking the court to reverse a ruling by the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that upheld the EPA’s approval of E15.

API supported the request with a brief filed Tuesday that responded to arguments from E15 supporters, who have asked the court to pass on the case.

In the brief, API cites the opinion of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the lone dissenter to January’s appeals court decision, who said, “EPA’s action simply cannot be squared with the statutory text.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the matter had been settled in the lower court.

“Big Oil needs to accept EPA’s decision and move on,” Dinneen said. “Battling it in court over and over is just a waste of court resources and taxpayer money.”

He called API’s research “scientifically weak,” noting that it also found engine failure when ethanol-free fuel was used and said the research leading to EPA’s decision was far more comprehensive.

Tuesday’s filing comes on the same day the case was distributed to the court for conference. At the earliest, the justices could decide whether to take up the case on June 24, according a Supreme Court spokeswoman.

Greco said ethanol would play an important role in the nation’s fuel needs going forward.

“But we cannot allow a mandate for ethanol that exceeds what is safe for consumers,” he said.

API has also urged Congress to move forward with legislation to repeal the E15 standards.

— This story was updated at 3:49 p.m.