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WABC-AM radio host John Batchelor ethanol

Ethanol blended fuel

July 9, 2004 – Lou Ann Hammond discusses with WABC-AM radio host John Batchelor why California and New York are asking the Federal EPA to waive the mandate requiring Ethanol blended fuel.

California Environmental Protection Agency and New York have requested a waiver to the Federal EPA from using reformulated gas (RFG), commonly known as ethanol or corn fuel. Ethanol is an American-made alternative fuel that creates jobs and money in America while decreasing foreign oil dependence. California and New York ask for a waiver from buying American made fuel, ethanol

There’s a war brewing over fuel and the dependence on oil. That war is right here in the United States and it’s between the Federal EPA, California, and New York.

California Environmental Protection Agency and New York have requested a waiver to the Federal EPA from using reformulated gas (RFG), commonly known as ethanol or corn fuel. Ethanol is an American-made alternative fuel that creates jobs and money in America while decreasing foreign oil dependence.

This waiver is not about Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), which has already been banned in California. According to Jerry Martin, spokesperson for CARB, “We don’t need ethanol in our gas. We can achieve the same goal without the RFG mandate. By 2007 all vehicles in California will be required to meet tier 2 standards. The hardware and technology of new cars combined with their blended gas do what ethanol used to do in older cars.”

Gabrielle Done, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) agrees with California, “Motor vehicle technology has continued to evolve so that vehicle fuel and engine management systems have superseded the need for fuel oxygenates.”

“A document dated December 12, 2003, from the NYDEC to the United States Environmental Protection Agency states, “the federal energy bill, in provisions passed by both houses and carried in the conference report, eliminates oxygen mandate from the reformulated gasoline requirements contained in the Clean Air Act. New York State appreciates the recognition that it is time for this antiquated and unnecessary requirement to be removed from the Act and looks forward to furthering Congressional action to eliminate the oxygenate requirement. As it is recognized that the addition of oxygenating no longer provides benefit’s toward meeting the ozone national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS).”

Ethanol groups are incensed at the suggestion that ethanol would not be used when attainment for clean air has not been met in either state. Yet there are other environmental groups that came out for the waiver against ethanol in the fuel mixture saying it increases nitrogen oxide, which adds to ground-level ozone formation.

Scientist Gary Whitten, the consultant for Smogreyes, says that CARB is mistaken in their computer model involving tailpipes and evaporative emissions. “The model is faulty. Both CARB and CAEPA ignore carbon monoxide, which is a precursor to hydrocarbons, which creates ozone problems. An increase of carbon monoxide out of a tailpipe means an increase in emissions. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers did a test and found that oxygenates were more effective. I have done an analysis that shows that without the use of ethanol carbon monoxide will increase and that could be worse than the air quality problems caused by seepage of ethanol from engine hoses.”

Neil Koehler, Director of California renewable fuels partnership, believes that the Federal EPA will reject the waiver, “The waiver has been rejected once and is only in play on a technicality. I believe oil companies will start buying ethanol factories.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), In the United States, approximately 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases are emitted per person every year. And emissions per person have increased by about 3.4% between 1990 and 1997. Most of these emissions, about 82%, are from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity and power our cars.

What Are Greenhouse Gases?

Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Certain human activities, however, add to the levels of most of these naturally occurring gases:

Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), and wood and wood products are burned. According to Charlie Terito, spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, carbon dioxide is like cholesterol. There are good and bad cholesterols. Carbon Dioxide can be expelled from people. It can’t be regulated from the tailpipe of a car.

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from the decomposition of organic wastes in municipal solid waste landfills, and the raising of livestock.

Nitrous oxide (NOx) is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during the combustion of solid waste and fossil fuels.

Very powerful greenhouse gases that are not naturally occurring include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are generated in a variety of industrial processes.

Each greenhouse gas differs in its ability to absorb heat in the atmosphere. HFCs and PFCs are the most heat-absorbent. Methane traps over 21 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide absorbs 270 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide. Often, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions are presented in units of millions of metric tons of carbon equivalents (MMTCE), which weights each gas by its GWP value or Global Warming Potential.

Tier 2 standard

According to and the EPA, the Tier 2 standards apply for new passenger cars and light-duty trucks. The program focuses on reducing emissions of ozone-forming gases, including nitrogen oxides (NOx) and non-methane organic gases (NMOG), and particulate matter (PM) from these vehicles. The same set of federal standards, expressed in grams of pollutants emitted per mile (g/mi), applies to all passenger cars, light trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, regardless of the vehicle or engine size. Under this approach, which reflects the EPA’s concern with increasing market share and emissions from minivans and sport utility vehicles (SUV), larger vehicles will have to employ cleaner engine and emission control technologies than those needed for vehicles with small engines. The same requirements will apply to all vehicles regardless of the fuel, i.e., gasoline and diesel-fueled vehicles will be certified to the same emission standard.

The Tier 2 regulation will also reduce average gasoline sulfur levels in the U.S. These reductions begin to phase in as early as 2000, with full compliance for most refiners occurring by 2006. The program requires that most refiners and importers meet a corporate average gasoline sulfur standard of 120 ppm and a cap of 300 ppm beginning in 2004. By 2006, the average standard will be reduced to 30 ppm with an 80 ppm sulfur cap. Temporary, less stringent standards will apply to a few small refiners through 2007. In addition, temporary, less stringent standards will apply to a limited geographic area in the western U.S. for the 2004-2006 period.

Will the waiver pass?

On July 7, 2004, Jeff Holmstead, Office of air and radiation, U.S. EPA, testified before the committee on government reform, United States House of Representatives. In a very telling statement, Holmstead ended his testimony by saying, “I would now like to talk about the status of Californias and New Yorks’s requests for a waiver of the oxygen requirement in RFG. The Clean Air Act requires that RFG be used in the highly polluted areas of the U.S. and that RFG contain a minimum of 2.0 percent by weight oxygen. In order to receive a waiver from the federal RFG oxygen requirement, a state must show that the requirement will interfere with the state’s ability to attain a NAAQS.”

“Congress set a high hurdle for granting such waivers, and severely limit EPAs discretion. For example, the Clean Air Act does not allow the Agency to consider the risks of MTBE contamination of drinking water in California and New York. It also does not allow the Agency to consider the effect on gasoline prices or energy supplies that the oxygenate requirement and state bans on MTBE might have.”

“As was apparent in our denial of California’s request in June of 2001, analyzing the emissions effects of granting a waiver is a very complicated endeavor. For example, the granting of a waiver would not result in the use of a uniform market of non-oxygenated RFG in the California RFG areas but, rather, some amount of oxygenated RFG would be used. Because California enacted a ban on the use of MTBE in gasoline, the oxygenate in California RFG is ethanol.

A market that includes both non-oxygenated and ethanol oxygenated RFG creates the potential for mixing, called commingling, of the two types of fuel in the gas tanks of automobiles, which in turn results in increased emissions of volatile organic compounds. Other complicated issues arise such as how refiners would reformulate their gasoline without an oxygen requirement and still meet the emissions performance requirements of RFG. In combination, these issues and others determine whether the granting of a waiver would, in fact, help or hinder the air quality situation in the state. We continue to sort out these complex issues as we review the data and analyses submitted by the State in support of its waiver request. Our actions with respect to the waiver requests from California and New York are no different in this regard.”

“In short, the Clean Air Act provides significant constraints for granting waivers of the oxygen requirement in RFG. We believe that the difficulties that the oxygen requirement poses for certain states can best be remedied by the passage of comprehensive energy legislation that will simplify federal gasoline requirements by replacing the RFG oxygenate requirement with a national renewable fuels standard that includes a flexible credit trading system.”

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, the clean fuel programs I have talked about today are critical to our nation’s efforts to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution from motor vehicles. They are also important to the production and distribution of gasoline at a fair price to consumers. We have learned a great deal about cleaner-burning fuels since 1990 and the Agency will continue to look for ways to make improvements.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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