Ethanol Damage to Motorboat Engines

About half of anglers – both freshwater and saltwater – primarily use a boat while fishing. Unfortunately, a recent push by ethanol producers could have significant detrimental effects on marine engine durability, performance and emissions.

Growth Energy, a coalition of ethanol producers, is working to increase the amount of ethanol blended into a gallon of gasoline up to 15 volume percent (E15). The coalition has submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would waive the current Clean Air Act limitation on ethanol content in gasoline, authorizing the use of higher ethanol blends.

Most marine and other small gasoline-powered engines are designed, calibrated and certified to run on gasoline containing no more than 10 percent ethanol, and higher concentrations of ethanol in fuel pose serious mechanical problems for these engines. Other factors affecting consideration include vehicle and engine warranties and the effects on gasoline distribution systems (e.g., gas pumps). Additionally, an increase in ethanol allowances carries serious environmental concerns, since corn production requires significantly more water than most other crops and leads to greater runoff of nutrients and other pollutants into watersheds.

EPA Ethanol Fuels Decision
On October 13, 2010, the EPA announced that it would approve Growth Energy’s petition and allow an increase in the amount of ethanol in a gallon of gasoline to as much as 15 percent for use in vehicles made since the 2007 model year. Three months later, the agency announced its decision to approve the use of E15 in light-duty vehicles made since the 2001 model year. The EPA is currently addressing significant questions and concerns regarding anticipated problems with consumer confusion and the risk of misfueling.

On April 2, 2012, the EPA approved the first applications for registration of ethanol for use in making E15 gasoline. Registration of ethanol to make E15 is a significant step toward its production, sale, and use in model year 2001 and newer gasoline-fueled cars and light trucks. To enable widespread use of E15, the Obama Administration has set a goal to help fueling station owners install 10,000 blender pumps over the next 5 years.

Members of Congress and various industries, from recreational boating to food production, are concerned that the EPA’s vehicle testing is insufficient and are pushing for the continued use of E10, while some biofuel advocates are pushing for the future allowance of up to 30 percent ethanol blends.

On August 17, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed a challenge brought by the Engine Products Group seeking to overturn the EPA’s decision E15 into the U.S. fuel supply. This decision puts the potentially dangerous E15 closer to gas pumps across the country. The challenge was dismissed on procedural grounds, not on the merits of the case, and members of the Engine Products Group are currently evaluating further litigation options.

Vehicle manufacturers will not cover claims and will void warranties for engine damage due to the E15 blend. Motorist advocacy group, AAA, has also spoken out again the high blend and has asked the EPA for better studies for all engine types.

In early 2013, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced the RFS Reform Act of 2013 – S. 344,H.R. 1462. Over 220 members from both chambers of Congress stated opposition the RFS, however the Act ultimately did not pass either chamber. On February 4, 2015 at the start of the 114th Congress, Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) introduced a nearly identical bill, the RFS Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 704). The Act has 34 original co-sponsors. If passed, it will prohibit the EPA from approving blends of ethanol above 10 percent in gasoline, such as E15. The issue entered the Senate on February 26, 2015 when Sen. Toomey (R-PA) along with Sens. Feinstein (D-CA) and Flake (R-AK) introduced S. 577 – the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2015. The bill would amend the Clean Air Act and remove the current requirement for ethanol to be used as fuel.

To educate and protect consumers about possible engine destruction E15 can cause, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute deployed its Look Before You Pump campaign. The message is to opt for fuel containing no more than E10 for construction equipment and small engines, including boats.

The EPA has yet to announce the final 2014 Renewable Fuel Obligations, although the Federal Trade Commission proposed a new regulation to better label blends of ethanol above 10 percent by volume.

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