New Fuels for Health, Economy, and a Clean Energy Future
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new rules for the cars and fuels of the future – formally known as Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards. The Energy Future Coalition recently offered comments on those rules, urging EPA to “usher in a new era of cleaner, higher-efficiency fuel, improving the lives of millions of American citizens and protecting both public health and the environment.”
EPA’s rules determine what fuels can be sold to the public. In the Tier 3 rule, the agency proposed tougher emissions standards for vehicles, and it asked whether it should approve an alternative fuel blend of 30 percent ethanol to enable more efficient engine design. The Energy Future Coalition’s answer to that question was an emphaticyes. Such a blend would maximize benefits to air quality and public health, automotive performance, and consumer costs.
- Air quality and public health: Aromatic hydrocarbons—used to boost octane—make up more than 20% of each gallon of gasoline. When burned, these compounds produce hazardous air pollutants, including benzene and dangerous levels of fine and ultra-fine particulate matter (PM2.5 and UFPs). There is a growing body of research that links these pollutants to serious human health impacts, especially respiratory illness and developmental disorders. A recent study led by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, with participation by EPA, estimated that exposure to just one of these pollutants caused approximately 3,800 premature deaths a year and total social costs of $28.2 billion.
- Automotive performance: Blending high-octane ethanol into gasoline reduces aromatics while maintaining performance. Despite the lower energy content of ethanol, in an optimized vehicle with an E30 blend, vehicle fuel economy and range can be maintained. An E30 blend in an engine designed to use that fuel would have “ridiculous power and good fuel economy,” one senior automotive engineer said.
- Consumer costs: Numerous economic analyses suggest that the use of ethanol reduces the cost of gasoline. A recent study at Louisiana State University, for example, found that each additional billion gallons of ethanol cuts gasoline prices by as much as 6 cents a gallon. The US produced 13 billion gallons of ethanol last year, so that means savings of 78 cents a gallon – and Americans consume 130 billion gallons of gasoline annually, so ethanol saved them more than $100 billion last year. A 30% ethanol blend would only amplify this effect, reducing our vulnerability to oil price spikes and creating positive ripple effects throughout the economy.
EPA was required by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to ensure “the greatest degree of [air toxic] emissions reduction achievable” from motor vehicles. Shifting to a mid-level ethanol blend to reduce the use of aromatics is achievable with currently available technology and a sensible plan of action. With time—and the removal of regulatory disincentives to alternative fuels—our cars could all be running on cleaner, safer fuel and benefiting from the performance enhancement that a higher-octane blend would make possible.
Toward that end, the Energy Future Coalition asked EPA to facilitate a nationwide transition to a mid-level ethanol blend and to limit the aromatic content of gasoline to the greatest degree achievable. By doing so, EPA can improve the health of Americans, strengthen our economy, and accelerate our transition to a clean energy future.
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