GOP questions ethanol's viability as E15 gas blend pumps

The nation’s first 15 percent ethanol blend will begin fueling vehicles next week at a Kansas gas station. 

Any light-duty vehicle manufactured since 2001 can use the E15 gas pumps at the Zarco 66 “Oasis” station in Lawrence, Kan., which will begin using the pumps on July 18, the Renewable Fuels Association said Wednesday. 

A second E15 filling station will soon open in Ottawa, Kan., it said. Under the current market, the E15 blend will cost less per gallon than a fuel blended with 10 percent ethanol, as well as fuels based entirely in petroleum, the group said.

The news comes one day after a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing questioned the viability of E15.

It was Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo who got most animated on the ethanol fuel topic during the Tuesday subcommittee hearing. He railed against E85 — a much more potent ethanol content than its E15 brethren — and E15, asking, “Why don’t I hear my constituents screaming” for those fuels.

The two filling stations are located in the Kansas’s 2nd Congressional District, which is represented by Republican Lynn Jenkins. Pompeo serves the 4th district, which includes Wichita.

In a statement Wednesday, Pompeo applauded the Kansas gas stations for their efforts. 

“That there are soon to be two stations offering E15 in Kansas begins to increase choice for consumers and increase competition in the marketplace. This is great,” Pompeo said.

House Republicans at the Tuesday hearing portrayed the renewable fuel standard that promotes using ethanol and other biofuels as government intervention. Democrats said biofuels will help reduce dependence on foreign oil and combat the effects of climate change.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard told lawmakers that auto companies have warned some warranties will not cover damage to engines caused by E15.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in June approved use of E15 for the first time. That means nearly two-thirds of all vehicles on the road can use the fuel, the association said.

“E15 has been the most vigorously tested fuel to be approved by the EPA,” Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen said Wednesday in a statement. “Ethanol has long proven itself to be a safe and effective fuel for consumers, and E15 will be no exception.”

E15 producers and retailers must register with the EPA to qualify for a partial waiver program. Those waivers let gas station operators sell E15 fuel and are intended to ensure filling pumps properly convey what kinds of vehicles can handle E15 fuel.

This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.