Higher Court Upholds Decision to OK EPA's E15, Ethanol is Go!

E15 is coming, and federal courts think that is just fine according to a federal appeals court decision rendered Tuesday that denied a request by food and oil lobbyists that it reconsider a decision upholding a federal measure allowing gasoline to be mixed with a higher percentage of ethanol. Known as E15, the ethanol/gasoline mix is expected to reduce dependence on foreign oil while encouraging the development of ethanol-friendly fuel systems and modern, turbocharged engines that can benefit from the increased octane available from ethanol fuels.

The petitioners, led by lobbyists from the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute, requested a rehearing after courts OK’ed the EPA’s approval of E15 (current US fuels are E10). The lobbying groups’ claim that ethanol in gasoline could cause damage to older car engines and fuel systems and result in costly repairs for consumers, which seemes largely debatable – especially if you’re a right-wing nutjob who has no direct experience with ethanol, engines, or the scientific method (note: the previous, dead-nuts accurate comment was not present in the court’s records).

Some legal experts believe that the denial of a rehearing in the appeals court may give petitioners a chance to bring their case against the EPA case to the Supreme Court. Here’s hoping the court has the good sense to ignore them.

You can read the full report, by Valerie Volcovici, below.

Federal Court Upholds Decision to Allow Higher Ethanol Blends

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – A U.S. federal appeals court on Tuesday denied a request by food and oil groups that it reconsider a decision upholding a federal measure allowing gasoline to be mixed with a higher percentage of ethanol, producing a blend known as E15.

The petitioners, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Petroleum Institute, requested a rehearing after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit in August backed the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the 15 percent mix, an increase from the previous maximum ethanol blend of 10 percent.

The lobbying groups said that the higher ethanol blend in gasoline could cause damage to car engines and fuel systems, resulting in costly repairs for consumers.

The court upheld the 2-1 opinion handed down in August that the trade groups’ claims of harm were speculative.

But Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the lone dissenter, said the law does not allow the EPA to grant a waiver for a higher blend, suggesting that the case might continue.

“The evidence is undisputed that this E15 waiver would cause failure of emissions standards in cars manufactured through 2000. Yet EPA still granted the waiver. EPA’s action simply cannot be squared with the statutory text,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Ethanol trade groups applauded the court’s decision.

“This is a major victory for the renewable fuels industry and opens the door for further investment in new fueling technology to offer E15 to consumers,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers.

The sale of E15 is not widespread yet and faces barriers including the cost of installing special pumps that can dispense various blends at service stations. States must also give approval for the local sale of E15.

The API said it has not yet decided how to continue to challenge the EPA on this issue in the courts.

“We’re disappointed in the court’s decision not to hear the case and are weighing our legal options,” said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the API.

“EPA approved E15 even though research by automakers, the oil industry and the government showed potential mechanical and infrastructure problems with E15 that could also lead to serious safety and environmental problems.

A report by the Automobile Association of America in December said there is insufficient evidence that E15 is safe to use in most vehicles and that most cars were never designed to use E15 as a fuel.

“AAA believes the EPA and retailers should suspend the sale of E15 until more is done to protect consumers from the potential for costly auto damage and voided warranties,” an AAA spokesman said on Tuesday.

But some legal experts said that, despite the denial of a rehearing in the appeals court, petitioners may have a shot at bringing the case to the Supreme Court.

Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western University’s law school, said the case would clear the way to address the issue of “standing” in the high court.

Several cases handled by the D.C. appeals court, including a high-profile case in which the court upheld the EPA’s rules governing greenhouse gas emissions, raise concerns that plaintiffs did not have the standing, or right, to sue, Adler said.

To bring a lawsuit, the trade groups must have shown that they had standing – specific interest in the case and or evidence they were directly hurt.

“This case would seem to be a fairly clean shot at clarifying some aspects of standing,” he said. “There is some concern that in some of the recent decisions, its stinginess on standing has come at the expense of analytical consistency.”

“It would seem to be a case that for some good reasons has been flagged and may get serious attention by (the Supreme Court).”

Source: Reuters.

Jo Borrás

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.