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AAA issues warnings on E15

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Ethanol supports denounce advice, say EPA study proved blend is safe

Staff and wire reports

Ethanol backers are fuming after the AAA indicated the Envirionmental Protection Agency and gasoline retailers should halt the sale of E15, a new ethanol-gasoline blend that AAA says could damage millions of vehicles and void car warranties.

The motor club, which issued its warning Thursday, says only 12 million of more than 240 million cars, trucks, and SUVs in use have manufacturers approval for E15. Flex-fuel vehicles, 2012 and newer GM vehicles, 2013 Fords and 2001 and newer Porsches are the exceptions, according to the AAA.

“It is clear that millions of Americans are unfamiliar with E15, which means there is a strong possibility many may improperly use E15 and damage their vehicle,” AAA chief Robert Darbelnet said Thursday.

BMW, Chrysler, Nissan, Toyota, and VW have said their warranties will not cover fuel-related claims caused by E15. Ford, Honda, Kia, Merdedes-Benz and Volvo have said E15 use will void warranties, and Darbelnet, citing potential corrosive damage to fuel lines, gaskets and components.

But ethanol backers say the two-year 6-million mile EPA study that led to the approval of E15 in June verified the blend is safe to use in cars newer than 2001. Brian Jennings, executive vice president for the American Coalition for Ethanol, called the AAA recommendation “disappointing.”

“They have zero proof to back up the claim that E15 will cause damage.”

Gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol has become standard at most U.S. gas stations, spurred by federal mandates to use more renewable energy sources and reduce foreign oil dependence. The Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of E15 – a 15 percent blend – despite objections from auto makers and the oil industry.

E15 has been available at a handful of Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota stations since summer. EPA stickers affixed to gas pimps say it’s safe for use in almost all vehicles 2001 and newer.

AAAL uncertainty

The AAA – in an unusual warning for a travel organization 00 says E15 sales should be stopped until there is more testing, more effective pump labels and more extensive consumer education.

The AAA – in an unusual warning for a travel organization – says E15 sales should be stopped…”

“The basis for the warning is we just don’t know right now what the long term effects will be on engines,” Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA South Dakota, said Friday. “There could be nothing or there could be something there. The studies really are inconclusive.”

The National Association of Convenience Stores said it’s worried about E15 damaging gas station issues. “There is too much uncertainty related to consumer demand and liability protection,” spokesman Jeff Lenard said.

But others say the EPA decision now should let the market decide the fate of E15.

“Let the public decide,” said Bruce Vollan, co-owner of Vollan Oil Co. and Midway Service station on Highway 115 north of Sioux Falls. “When you have a blender pump, the consumer essentially gets to pull up to the gas pimp and vote. It’s all about the choice.”

Vollan said since his store began selling E15, it’s one of the best-selling fuel blends, and he hasn’t heard any customers say they’ve had any adverse effects from using it.

Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said E15 is safe for virtually all post-2001 vehicles.

“It’s probably a nickel a gallon cheaper than E10. I would say out of five different blends we have, on any given day (E15) is probably the second or third most popular blend.”

Vollan’s station is the closest E15 provider to the Sioux Falls area.

Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association said E15 is safe for virtually all post-2001 vehicles. “We think the (EPA) warning label should be sufficient,” he said.

Oil and auto study

The three-year study by automakers and the oil industry cited by AAA that shows E15 was linked to engine and fuel system failure is the latest barrage of criticism for the ethanol industry.

The National Council of Chain Restaurants and API, which represents energy giants such as Exxon-Mobil and ConocoPhillips, have urged Congress to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard put in place in 2005, saying the RFS has driven up corn prices and resulted in other unintended consequences.

“It’s just too coincidental for me to think that this is anything else besides the next push to try and eliminate the competition for big oil and try to turn back the clock and try to get $2 corn for farmers,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Ethonal.

Mai insists AAA’s position is in the interest of motorists.

“We’re not afraid to tell it like it is. We’re not in anybody’s back pocket, and we’re not funded by anybody but our members,” he said. “We want the public to be informed and not put fuel in their vehicle that may do damage. We’d rather err on the side of caution”

There’s been more testing done on ethanol than oil. The ethanol industry… just simply wants market access. Our country is in desperate need to find a homegrown renewable, so this is about the future.”

Because E15 isn’t widely used, halting the sale of the blend might not have much effect on corn farmers or other ethanol related businesses, said Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, but it will restrict the ability of the U.S. to shake its dependence on foreign oil and nonrenewable sources of energy.

“There’s been more testing done on ethanol than oil,” she said “The ethanol industry… just simple wants market access. Our country is in desperate need to find a homegrown renewable, so this is about the future.”

The Argus Leader’s Joe Sneve and the USA Today’s Gary Strauss contributed