Lamberty Report: Blame it on the Alcohol
by Ron Lamberty
While watching the Grammy awards last month, I was shocked to discover that “Blame it on the A-a-a-Alcohol,” was actually a song and not the latest coordinated anti-ethanol smear campaign by “big food” and “little engines.” “T-Pain” is actually a performer and not a nickname Tim Searchinger gave himself to feel more “gangsta.”
Those folks and a few others have been regularly sending love letters to EPA and DOE since the former decided to delay its decision on E15 until some more testing is completed by the latter. All of the letters show concern that thorough testing and science be used to determine whether we will be able to use more clean burning, American made fuel.
That stance from those groups would be a refreshing change – if it weren’t so incredibly disingenuous. Given the chance to submit their own “science” to EPA during the E15 waiver request, these groups instead incited their members to turn in anecdotal tales of problems they think might have possibly been caused by ethanol. Those unverifiable ethanol spook stories were submitted as though they were “science,” showing what might happen if a higher ethanol blend is approved.
I don’t believe any of those comments were intended to be considered by EPA in the analysis of E15. Those comments about supposed ethanol damage to engines were designed to establish a public record that will absolve engine manufacturers – especially small engine manufacturers – from having to stand behind their equipment. Early results from tests at the National Renewable Energy Lab show that small engines fail at a fairly high rate even using standard gasoline. Imagine how much small engine manufacturers would save if this “Blame it on the Alcohol” strategy works.
Last fall I received correspondence from a customer who was told by Toro that they wouldn’t cover his repair because he had used ethanol. After providing him with a copy to Toro’s actual owner’s manual which indeed allows E10, Toro changed course and again denied the claim based on E10’s 89 octane rating. Toro said, “We recommend using octane between 85 and 87 as higher-octane fuel may damage the motor. Fuel related issues are not coverage by warranty.”
That last sentence says it all. We need to be prepared for a world where every repair is a “fuel related” repair, because that will come hand-in-hand with an E15 waiver. ACE has requested that when E15 is approved, EPA issue labeling guidelines that are affirmative statements of ethanol’s approval, rather than some kind of warning. The E10 “warning labels” of the past created the mindset that has allowed this ethanol bogeyman to be brought back to life from time to time. We all need to be ready to drive a stake through its heart this time, and an assist from EPA and DOE would be a good start.