New Standard...Sort of

Farmer Iron

EPA makes a move on E-15 - a very small move.

Published on: October 13, 2010

Writing about equipment is fun when you've covered the tech changes seen in our business for the past 25 years. However, I don't get to do much writing about cars and trucks (although we just profiled the Ford F-150 recently). In following the "on-road" machinery industry, I've watched plenty of change - but few are as interesting as the move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today.

They've approved the E15 standard for cars, provided they're made in 2007 or later, which means my family car - a Mazda 3 - is fine, but my aging 2002 Dodge Intrepid will have to lumber along with E10 (living in Minnesota we're all burning E10 in our cars) for at least a few more months. Yet I don't know that this move makes any sense.

EPA is saying in its announcement that the decision is best on Department of Energy testing for durability. And based on that data approved the 2007 first; then they'll approve 2001 and newer vehicles by year end. No waiver is being granted for 2000 and older cars or trucks.

I know there's a big debate here, and I know some advocate groups for and against ethanol have their own agendas. My thought on all this is that the move is like no move at all. In this competitive market today's gasoline marketers are not getting ready to add new pumps (look how hard it is to get E85 pumps in place for accepted, approved flex-fuel vehicles).

This begs the question, is this really a standard, or lip service for biofuels from an administration that on this issue has said one thing and continues to do another. If we're going to get serious about biofuels we have to figure out new ways to solve these problems. But half-baked moves that appear to do something and in fact don't make bad policy.

We've been burning 10% ethanol in gasoline for years in cars, and it's not doing anything to 'em. Would that extra 5% make that big a difference? We're sure that the food vs. fuel types will be happy about this "no-decision" move by EPA. Farmers should remain frustrated.

And no offense to my ethanol advocate friends who are trying to see the glass as half-full - but frankly this is a glass-empty move. I'll grant it'll get the "what should that pump look like" discussions going; and the paperwork for handling this new fuel will get underway. But for now it's more a procedural move that American farmers can feel only slightly good about.

Hopefully something more comes of it.