No E15 gas cap

The battle over E15 – that mix of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline – has apparently taken an unexpected turn.

Following months of discussion about the safety of E15, the biofuel went on sale at a gas station in Kansas last month. We heard that that station was requiring anyone buying E15 to purchase at least four gallons of the stuff so as to prevent the biofuel from getting into small tanks – lawnmowers, etc. – that are not supposed to burn E15. Turns out, this rule might be more expansive than we originally thought.

The American Motorcyclist Association has been in communication with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the use of blender pumps, which can dispense varying percentages of ethanol along with the gasoline (so, it can pump our E10 or E85, for example, as well as E15, depending). The AMA was looking for clarification because of "possible misfueling due to residual fuel left in a blender pump hose used to dispense 15 percent ethanol blend (E15) gasoline" because "our members who make a concerted effort to fuel their motorcycles or ATVs with E10-or-less gasoline may be unknowingly refueling with residual fuel left in the hose." The AMA's main question was: "What specifically does the EPA recommend that motorcyclists and ATV users do when using a blender pump that dispenses E15 gasoline?"

To which the EPA wrote back:

EPA requires that retail stations that own or operate blender pumps either dispense E15 from a dedicated hose and nozzle if able or, in the case of E15 and E10 being dispensed from the same hose, require that at least four gallons of fuel be purchased to prevent vehicles and engines with smaller fuel tanks from being exposed to gasoline-ethanol blended fuels containing greater than 10 vol% ethanol.

The stations must also inform customers about this minimum purchase requirement.

In other words, that four-gallon requirement is a nationwide rule, not just something that one station in Kansas implemented. What isn't clear is whether those blender pumps will never be able to dispense fewer than four gallons, no matter what the fuel type is. It sure reads like this is the case, but phone calls and emails to the EPA for more clarification were not returned. You can read the letters the AMA sent to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and the response here (1, 2) and see the AMA's press release below. If we hear back from the EPA, we will let you know.
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Federal officials mandating minimum four-gallon gasoline purchase from certain ethanol-blend pumps

PICKERINGTON, Ohio, Aug. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will require all consumers to buy at least four gallons of gasoline from certain gas pumps after the new E15 ethanol-gasoline blend is introduced into the market, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.

The EPA revealed the requirement to the AMA in a letter dated Aug. 1, responding to AMA concerns that E15 -- a gasoline formulation that contains up to 15 percent ethanol by volume -- could be put in motorcycle and ATV gas tanks inadvertently when consumers use blender pumps. A blender pump dispenses different fuel blends through the same hose, and the vast majority of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles in use today aren't designed to operate on E15 fuel.

"With E15 gasoline, our members who make a concerted effort to fuel their motorcycles or ATVs with E10-or-less gasoline may be unknowingly refueling with residual fuel left in the hose," Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations, wrote in a June 20 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

"Unlike an automobile or SUV that has a large fuel tank, the residual fuel left in a fueling hose could be detrimental to the performance of motorcycle or ATV engines due to the small size of their fuel tanks and the higher concentration of ethanol that would, therefore, be present in the fuel," Allard wrote.

"In addition, the use of E15 will lower fuel efficiency and possibly cause premature engine failure," he wrote. "Use of E15 fuel voids many manufacturer warranties. In off-road engines, the effects can even be dangerous for users."

Byron Bunker of the EPA National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory responded to the AMA on behalf of Jackson.

"EPA requires that retail stations that own or operate blender pumps either dispense E15 from a dedicated hose and nozzle if able or, in the case of E15 and E10 being dispensed from the same hose, require that at least four gallons of fuel be purchased to prevent vehicles and engines with smaller fuel tanks from being exposed to gasoline-ethanol blended fuels containing greater than 10 volume percent ethanol," Bunker wrote.

"Additionally, EPA is requiring that retail stations that offer E10 and E15 from the same hose and nozzle use additional labeling to inform consumers about the minimum purchase requirement," Bunker wrote.

"Since motorcyclists and ATV users, as you suggest, have relatively small fuel tanks, they should pay careful attention to the labeling of blender pumps to ensure that an appropriate fuel is chosen, in this case E10 or E0," he wrote.

Another problem with the new EPA policy, Allard said, is that not all motorcycle and ATV gas tanks hold four or more gallons.

"Not only do we find it unacceptable for the EPA to mandate that everyone -- including our members -- buy minimum amounts of gas, but the EPA answer simply won't work because of the sizes of many motorcycle and ATV gas tanks and the fact that off-highway riders take containers of gas with them on their trips, and most times those containers are much smaller than four gallons," Allard said.

"The EPA needs to come up with a better solution," he said. "The EPA also needs to back an independent study to determine whether E15 is safe for motorcycle and ATV engines."

The AMA has repeatedly expressed concerns to government officials and federal lawmakers about possible damage to motorcycle and ATV engines caused by the inadvertent use of E15 when the new fuel becomes widely available, and has asked that motorcycles and ATVs be part of any scientific study into the effects of E15.

Ethanol is essentially grain alcohol produced from crops such as corn that is mixed with gasoline to produce an ethanol-gasoline blend motor fuel. In October 2010, the EPA approved the use of E15 in model year 2007 and newer light-duty vehicles (cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles). Then, in January 2011, the EPA added model year 2001-06 light-duty vehicles to the approved list.

No motorcycles or ATVs are currently on the list.

About the American Motorcyclist Association

Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. As the world's largest motorcycling rights organization, the AMA advocates for motorcyclists' interests in the halls of local, state and federal government, the committees of international governing organizations, and the court of public opinion. Through member clubs, promoters and partners, the AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. AMA members receive money-saving discounts from dozens of well-known suppliers of motorcycle services, gear and apparel, bike rental, transport, hotel stays and more. Through the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the AMA honors the heroes and the heritage of motorcycling for future generations. For more information, please visit AmericanMotorcyclist.com.