EPA expected to approve higher blends of ethanol in gasoline

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By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 12:13 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce Wednesday that it has approved motor fuel with higher blends of ethanol for use in newer vehicles, but is still weighing the use of such blends in older cars and trucks, administration and industry sources said last night.

The agency will grant a waiver to existing rules to allow the use of E15 - made with 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline - in cars made in model year 2007 or more recently.

But the agency is still awaiting Energy Department test results on 2001 through 2006 models to make sure that the higher ethanol content doesn't harm engines, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has indicated in the past that those tests should be complete by the end of November.

An ethanol industry source said that a labeling program would also be announced to help assure that motorists with older vehicles don't mistakenly fill up with the wrong type of fuel.

The ruling would apply to 18 percent of cars; if extended to 2001-2006 vehicles it would be more than 36 percent of the vehicle fleet. Growth Energy, an industry group, applied for a waiver of the E10 limit in March 2009.

Big agriculture companies and ethanol distilleries have been pressing for an increase in the limit on ethanol in motor fuel because the nation's overall ethanol production is approaching 10 percent of motor fuel use, a point commonly known as the "blend wall" by people in the industry.

The ethanol industry is expected to produce 10.6 billion gallons this year, substantially less than its capacity.

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