Higher ethanol authorization drawing fire from automakers

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency, acting under the Clean Air Act waivers, approved the use of gas containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) in cars and light trucks made as early as 2001. Ford, Chrysler and Toyota, along with other manufacturers, have reacted by stating the use of the E15 blend in their cars may void the warranties.

An Associated Press post by the Omaha World Herald just today reports Jody Trapasso, Chrysler's senior vice president of external affairs, stating “While Chrysler has been a strong advocate of renewable fuels, we have concerns about the potential harmful effects of E15 in engines and fuel systems that were not designed for use of that fuel,” in a letter to Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the vice chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, last month.

Legislators in the MidWest and Plains states, where most of the nation’s corn is grown, have been the most outspoken advocates of the higher ethanol content – not the automakers. Most of the country’s ethanol is produced in Iowa and Nebraska.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has recently touted E15 as a means to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Of course, Harkin has sipped ethanol at a congressional hearing to illustrate its relative safety – at least once.

He an other representatives of the corn-belt think the automakers are overreacting to the new rules. “I think it's a power play by automakers,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.

Johanns was formerly the Secretary of Agriculture and recalled testing the E15 fuel blend during his tenure. “We started the studies on E15,” he said. “I can't remember a single case while I was secretary where I had a concern about engine operation of an automobile.”

The driving public should accept the EPA’s blessing of the fuel according to Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. He believes the study proved the fuel safe for cars and light trucks after 2001 and newer. “They should decide, as I have, to rely on the EPA's analysis of it.”

Todd Sneller, administrator of the Nebraska Ethanol Board, found the protest from the automakers to be misleading and inconsequential simply because most auto warranties only last three years.

Thus, over two-thirds of the cars approved for E15 use are already have expired warranties. Further, the millions of flex-fuel vehicles on the roads already are designed to use ethanol blends up to 85 percent. He added E15 is safe and that he's heard reports of people putting much higher blends in their cars without problems.

However, when reviewing a flex fuel Sequoia recently, we were delighted to find we could refill it at $2.99 a gallon when regular gas was almost a dollar more. A brief discussion with the attendant revealed some people without flex fuel vehicles tried using it in their cars out of economic desperation – with disastrous results.

The bottom line: E15 is probably okay for your 2001 or later car or light truck, but don’t try putting E85 in your vehicle unless it’s made for it – no matter the price of gas.

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