In what is considered to be a blow to U.S. corn growers, the EPA today sent a letter to the Gen. Wesley Clark chaired trade association “Growth Energy” indicating that the EPA needed more time to complete tests on how an increase by 5% (from 10% ethanol to 15% ethanol) in ethanol content may damage engines and fuel lines.

The good news for Growth Energy, which formally petitioned for the increase, was that the EPA reported that two tests showed that engines in newer cars can handle the higher blend. “The announcement is a strong signal that we are preparing to move to E15,” Growth Energy said in a statement, asserting that the switch would mean 136,000 new jobs.

However, the Renewable Fuels Association saw it as a major blow to the growth of biofuels in the U.S. “The delay threatens to paralyze the continued evolution of America’s ethanol industry,” RFA president Bob Dinneen said. “Moreover, this delay will chill investment in advanced biofuel technologies at a critical time in their development and commercialization.”

As it stands, the U.S. ethanol industry benefits from a tax credit, a tariff on imported ethanol and from the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which will require fuel distributors to blend 15 billion gallons of ethanol with gasoline in coming years. But the industry is fast reaching that point and will exceed 11 billion in 2009.

The E15 blend has been controversial in part because of the damage that ethanol, a corrosive, already has caused in fuel lines and other components of boat engines and some small motors.

The EPA is involved because of air pollution implications and was required under the Clean Air Act to act by today on Growth Energy’s waiver request. The federal agency said that is has been working with the Energy Department to conduct tests “as quickly as possible given the available testing facilities.”

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy organization, praised the EPA’s deliberate process. The group’s Craig Cox said that sound science had trumped “efforts by well-funded and politically well-connected ethanol lobby to short circuit” the testing process.

Advertisements

The United States took a critical step towards protecting Americans from harmful ship emissions by becoming the first country to ask the International Maritime Organization to create an emissions control area (ECA) around the nation’s coastline, the EPA announced today at a joint news conference with the Coast Guard and New Jersey elected officials.

According to the EPA’s data, the creation of an ECA would save up to 8,300 American and Canadian lives every year by 2020 by imposing stricter standards on oil tankers and other large ships that spew harmful emissions into the air near coastal communities where tens of millions of Americans live, work, play and learn. The United States is proposing a 230-mile buffer zone around the nation’s coastline in order to provide air quality benefits as far inland as Kansas.

“This is an important – and long overdue – step in our efforts to protect the air and water along our shores, and the health of the people in our coastal communities,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.  “We want to ensure the economic strength of our port cities at the same time that we take responsible steps to protect public health and the environment in the United States and across the globe.”

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, “We have known for a long time that our families that live around ports have a higher rate of respiratory illness, including cancer. EPA’s announcement today is music to my ears because it means the United States is stepping forward to take a strong leadership role on clean air around ports.”

Under this program, large ships such as oil tankers and cargo ships that operate in ECAs will face stricter emissions standards designed to reduce the threat they pose to human health and the environment. These standards will cut sulfur in fuel by 98 percent, particulate matter emissions by 85 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80 percent from the current global requirements.

To achieve these reductions, ships must use fuel with no more than 1,000 parts per million sulfur beginning in 2015, and new ships must used advanced emission control technologies beginning in 2016.

Air pollution from ships is expected to grow rapidly as controls on other mobile sources take effect and port traffic increases. Ocean-going vessels, which are primarily foreign owned and operated, dock at more than 100 U.S. ports, more than 40 of which are in metropolitan areas that fail to meet federal air quality standards.

EPA led the U.S. effort to develop the proposal in coordination with federal partners such as the Coast Guard, State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Canada joined the U.S. as a co-proposer on the ECA proposal, advancing a strategy for a coordinated geographic emissions control program.

The proposal, submitted to the IMO on Friday, March 27, is one part of a comprehensive EPA program to address harmful emissions from ocean going vessels under the National Clean Diesel Campaign and the Clean Ports Program. Other elements include adoption of a Clean Air Act rulemaking process, which EPA plans to finalize this year.

The IMO, a United Nations agency, will begin reviewing the proposal in July. Approval of the proposal could occur as soon as next year.