Two E15 Decisions

by Ryck Lydecker

After a disappointing U.S. Courts of Appeals ruling on its suit against the EPA over E15 fuel last August, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) is back in court.

As part of a coalition of organizations that challenged the EPA’s authority to allow gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15, in the marketplace, NMMA filed suit in July 2011. But the court, by a 2-1 decision, said the boatbuilders’ trade association and the other coalition members didn’t have standing to bring the suit, meaning that the court could not consider the merits of the case. In other words, the court said NMMA and the other plaintiffs could not prove they had been harmed directly by the EPA action.

While the appeal could settle that question, the EPA’s 2011 decision to allow the sale of E15 in the first place still stands. But it stipulates that the fuel can be used only in motor vehicles 2001 and newer. Thus, the EPA had to come up with procedures to guard against consumers inadvertently using E15 in the wrong engines (and that includes all inboard and outboard boat engines). A solution, announced last fall, is the “four gallon rule,” meaning that consumers buying E10 from a pump that also dispenses E15 through the same hose must buy a minimum of four gallons, even if they need less. The rationale behind the rule is that just as single-hose pumps widely used today offer octane choices at the push of a button, these “blender pumps” could be used to dispense gasoline with varying percentages of ethanol through the same hose.

But what happens when the next customer needs E10? Just push the E10 button, right? Sure, but residual amounts of E15 likely would be left in the hose so EPA requires the customer to purchase a minimum of four gallons of E10. Theoretically that would dilute the concentration to the legal 10-percent level, at least for those who need more than four gallons. But if you need less, say to fill the 2-gallon gas can for your dinghy’s outboard motor, you’re stuck.  The EPA directive states, “a minimum transaction of 4 gallons must be required for E10 purchases and communicated to consumers by means of a prominently placed label stating: "Minimum Fueling Volume 4 Gallons; Dispensing Less May Violate Federal Law."