Later today the EPA will announce its approval for 15 percent ethanol blends in gasoline for vehicles produced between 2001 and 2006.

The Environmental Protection Agency will announce later today that it has approved the use of a 50 percent higher concentration of corn-based ethanol in gasoline for vehicles made after model year 2000.

The expected announcement was confirmed by two EPA officials to the Associated Press, but they asked to remain anonymous since the agency is not supposed to make the official announcement until later Friday.

The decision to approve a more concentrated level of ethanol for vehicles made prior to 2007 comes after a decision last October by the EPA to allow E15 for vehicles made after 2007 - up from 10 percent previously.

E15 has many up in arms

Although corn farmers who benefit from increased demand and government subsidies related to ethanol production may have little to complain about, every major automaker, as well as many environmentalists, cattle ranchers, food companies, various other groups and many consumers have voiced strong concern about the pushing of corn use in fuel, as pointed out by the AP.

Even Al Gore recently changed his mind regarding the government subsidizing ethanol, saying they should not, saying, "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for (U.S.) first generation ethanol." Gore added, "First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small. It's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

The opposition groups claim that the government mandate for E10, and now E15 fuel is diverting farmers from producing other crops, such as food for grocery stores, or even corn for used to feed livestock. As a result, consumers and everyone between them and the store are faced with increased costs. In addition to automakers, manufacturers of equipment powered by small motors such as lawnmowers, weed eaters, generators and other similar devices point out that the engines were not developed for use with such high concentrations of ethanol.

What harm can a little corn do?

The damage to engines, as pointed out by automakers and other groups, is that the caustic effects of ethanol can cause aspects of the engine, particularly rubber, to deteriorate and fail. Other critics point out that owners of pre-2001 vehicles will be burdened with having to find stations that carry the lower mixture of ethanol or risk damage to their vehicles.

Another issue is that ethanol burns hotter in vehicles than gasoline, which increases exhaust gas temperature, and thus wears out catalytic converters more quickly. The net result can be malfunctioning catalytic converters, which creates the opposite effect of what was intended by using ethanol in the first place - higher emissions.

If and when owners identify that the ethanol has ruined their catalytic converters, they are then stuck with large repair bills as the converters use expensive metals that create high replacement costs.

Despite these potential risks and costs, the Obama administration has voiced continued support for renewable fuels, which means the use of higher blends of ethanol in fuel. Congress has passed legislation that will force oil companies to blend in 36 billion gallons of biofuels - largely ethanol - by 2022.


1.'AP sources: EPA expected...' view