Car Industry

The EPA will finally get around to making sure ethanol in gas isn't slowly killing us

The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit last year to compel the EPA into action.

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The Renewable Fuel Standard requires US fuel to carry a certain volume of biofuels, the most notable of which is corn-based ethanol. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency has said it will conduct a study that will determine what effect than ethanol has on air quality.

According to Reuters, the US EPA said late last week that it will conduct an air-quality impact study that focuses on burning ethanol as vehicle fuel. The study's confirmation is part of an agreement with the Sierra Club, which filed a lawsuit against the EPA last year, claiming the study is already some eight years overdue. The EPA intends to conduct the study by March 2020.

The Sierra Club and other environmental clubs have drawn issue with the EPA's biofuel requirements. The Sierra Club has issued several press releases blasting the Renewable Fuel Standard for resulting in "unchecked land conversion" and the "elimination of vast native landscapes" in order to grow the corn required for all that ethanol. The group similarly condemned reports late last year that said the Trump administration planned to loosen ethanol requirements and allow 15-percent blends (E15) to be offered year-round, instead of the usual 10 percent (E10).

The cost benefits of E15 may get canceled out by the lower fuel economy your car puts out as a result of that extra ethanol.

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It's unclear what may happen if the study discovers that burning ethanol in gasoline makes air quality worse. The Reuters report says "new EPA action" is possible, but it didn't delve further into detail, and the EPA did not immediately return Roadshow's request for comment.

The Renewable Fuel Standard was enacted in 2005. It calls for an annual increase in the amount of renewable fuel blended into transportation fuel, reaching some 36 billion gallons by 2022 after starting with a requirement of 4 billion gallons in 2006.

While it may produce a boon to corn farmers, who have had to deal with the ramifications of a fledgling trade war with China, E15 has its fair share of detractors. The ethanol industry disputes claims that E15 fuel results in more smog on hot days than E10. E15 has been cleared for use in 2001-and-later vehicles since 2011, but the higher alcohol content can cause problems on old rubber seals, and it can also wreak havoc on older, carbureted vehicles. Furthermore, the lower energy density in ethanol means your car will usually get worse fuel economy on E15 versus E10, offsetting E15's lower cost at the pump.