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Automakers oppose EPA OK of higher ethanol fuel

| Wednesday, July 6, 2011

WASHINGTON -- A dozen domestic and foreign automakers are raising concerns over damage that could be caused by gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, which the Environmental Protection Agency plans to allow at gas pumps.

The EPA has released its warning sticker for gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, known as E15 -- a final step before the higher blend can be cleared for sale in the United States.

The 12 letters protesting E15 were sent to Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, in response to requests Sensenbrenner sent to 14 automakers seeking information on whether the higher blend posed problems for their vehicles.

Sensenbrenner, vice chair of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, has introduced legislation to block the EPA from allowing E15.

The automakers who have responded so far raising concerns are Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, Volvo, Hyundai, Kia and BMW.

As the Detroit Free Press has reported, the EPA is limiting the use of E15 to newer cars and to light trucks from model year 2001 onward, along with flex-fuel vehicles.

It is prohibiting its use for motorcycles, boats, vehicles with heavy-duty engines such as buses and delivery trucks, off-road vehicles, snowmobiles, lawnmowers, off-road equipment and light vehicles from model year 2000 and older.

Automakers have expressed concern over potential damage from E15, even in newer models.

"You're talking about a more corrosive product, and we haven't seen thorough enough studies to convince us it's not going to be a problem," Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing automakers, told the Free Press last week. "This would be a retroactive change for vehicles that were built up to 10 years ago, that were never designed with E15 in mind."

Bergquist said automakers would have preferred to see a specific warning on the sticker for drivers to check their individual owners' manuals, as using fuel other than the types listed -- which generally would not include E15 -- could potentially void their warranties for damage due to the higher blend.

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