Ethanol Mandate Frustrates Boaters

By Ryck Lydecker

When federal regulators asked the public's opinion about putting more ethanol in the U.S. gasoline supply, boaters responded with "Don't do it" based on experience.

Protest silhouetteIllustration:

Last June, as part of its normal rule-making process under federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the public to weigh in on the agency's plans to increase the amount of ethanol to be blended into gasoline next year. For 2017, the EPA set the number at 18.8 billion gallons, up from this year's 18.11 billion gallons. Upon learning this, the BoatUS Government Affairs department sent an email alert to BoatUS members, who responded to the EPA with thousands of comments, overwhelmingly telling the feds, loud and clear, "No! No more ethanol in our gas."

Why? Because over the last decade boaters have seen and experienced — often dangerously firsthand — significant and expensive engine breakdowns and fuel-system failures attributable to the 10-percent ethanol blend (E10) now found in more than 97 percent of the nation's motor-fuel supply. If the EPA's proposal for next year stands, it will force even more water-absorbing ethanol into boaters' fuel tanks, not to mention those of motorcyclists, car collectors, and millions of small-engine (lawn mower, chain saw, emergency generator, garden tractor, weed-trimmer) owners.

Unintended Consequences

Under a 2005 law that created the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) — in an effort to increase the amount of renewable fuels we use in our day-to-day lives and decrease the amount of fossil fuels — the EPA set an increasing number of gallons of ethanol that must be blended into the nation's fuel supply every year. The law sets hard numbers of gallons, not percentages, to be used by certain target dates. At the time, Congress thought adding renewable fuels like ethanol — most of it distilled from corn — to gasoline would have air-quality benefits and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Also at the time, experts assumed gasoline use would steadily increase when, in fact, the opposite has happened.

BoatUS comments to Congress on ethanol in gasolineBoatUS's Margaret Bonds Podlich and David Kennedy deliver 24,000 formal comments from our members to Congress.

"Since 2005, gasoline usage has dropped steadily," notes David Kennedy, BoatUS Program Manager for Government Affairs. "Today there's less gasoline to mix with the increasing amounts of ethanol called for in the law. We've hit what's known as ‘the blend wall.'"

Foreseeing the looming blend wall, in 2010 the ethanol advocates, including the corn lobby, convinced the EPA to split the nation's fuel supply, allowing gasoline with 15-percent ethanol into the marketplace despite its incompatibility with millions of engines. Now, E15 is sold in 24 states, opening up a new set of problems. While boaters and the boating industry have learned to live with E10, albeit uncomfortably, the higher blend is loathed and actually illegal for use in boats and most small engines, as well as cars built before 2001. (Extensive testing has shown that E15 can severely damage today's boat engines, inboards and outboards alike.) With E15 ever more widely available, and 95 percent of boaters filling their tanks at roadside gas stations, Kennedy warns that the chances of inadvertently filling up with the really bad stuff will be magnified.

Delivering The Message

"This is a repeat of what we saw happen last year, but the stakes are higher," reports Kennedy. "If the rule for 2017 stands, even the limited supply of ethanol-free fuel that we now have in some parts of the country will dry up." A similar email alert to BoatUS ­members in 2016 generated an equally outraged response, Kennedy says, and the EPA used its authority to slightly reduce the mandate. This year, with gasoline use still declining, the mandate looks even worse.

Unless Congress passes legislation to modify the Renewable Fuel Standard — or better yet, repeals it — the EPA is required to mandate annual ethanol usage according to the law passed more than a decade ago.

"We recognize that renewable fuels have a role in our nation's energy supply, but there must be a better way," says BoatUS President Margaret Bond Podlich, speaking from experience. Her family has had to replace two carburetors due to ethanol damage. "The challenge we face is working with the EPA and Congress to ensure that boaters have an adequate supply of gasoline that will work in the millions of boat engines currently in use on the nation's waterways."  

— Published: October/November 2016

Excerpts From BoatUS Member Comments Sent To Congress

"If the level of damage from E15 is anywhere near what I experienced with E10, I would be forced to scrap otherwise usable boats, cars, tractors, and small engines."

— C.T., Norristown, PA

"These motors are not designed to handle this kind of fuel. I had to learn the hard way and lost three motors to the ethanol fuels."

— J.P., Marco Island, FL

"I had to replace a 32-gallon below-deck gas tank in my previous boat due to damage it suffered from ethanol gasoline. I also had to have my four-stroke Yamaha engine on this same boat completely overhauled due to extensive damage by ethanol gasoline."

— M.M., Yonges Island, SC

"I am a boatbuilder and run a boat, motor, and trailer service and repair center. Since E10's introduction, the problems, and, in some cases, the complete destruction of motors due to ethanol fuels have easily risen tenfold, costing boaters many, many thousands of dollars in repairs or motor replacement."

— B.G., Port Isabel, TX

"If my truck breaks down and leaves me on the side of the road, that's a problem. If my boat breaks down or catches fire because the fuel line dissolves from within, that's a deadly problem."

— C.J., Shady Side, MD

"The cost to repair a boat engine could run into the thousands. … Any potential boat buyer would surely reconsider purchasing from the nightmare stories of damaged boat engines, and that in itself is bad for the economy."

— L.L., La Habra, CA

"Each percent of ethanol reduces the engine power by 1 percent. My engines will suffer irreparable harm if ethanol levels are increased. Additionally, the cost to repower my boat with two new engines exceeds $25,000. Simply put, increasing ethanol levels will make my boat and tens of thousands of others' boats unusable and reduce the resale value to zero."

— S.K., Newton, MA

"Ethanol deteriorated the gas tank and destroyed the engine. Gas could have ended up in the bilge, and that's life threatening."

— R.E., Chippewa Falls, WI

"Most vehicles, including boats, RVs, lawn equipment, and daily-driven motor vehicles, cannot tolerate ethanol mixtures exceeding 10 percent, and many are damaged by even 10-percent ethanol."

— W.K., Sandy, OR


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