WASHINGTON — It's a dilemma for drivers: Do they choose a gasoline that's cheaper and cleaner even if, as opponents say, it could damage older cars and motorcycles?
That's the peril and promise of a high-ethanol blend of gasoline known as E15. The fuel contains 15 percent ethanol, well above the current 10 percent norm sold at most U.S. gas stations.
The higher ethanol blend is currently sold in fewer than two dozen stations in the Midwest, but could spread to other regions as the Obama administration considers whether to require more ethanol in gasoline.
As a result, there's a feverish lobbying campaign by both oil and ethanol interests that has spread from Congress to the White House and the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's chief lobbying group, to block sales of E15. The justices left in place a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed challenges by the oil industry group and trade associations representing food producers, restaurants and others.
Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, hailed the decision as victory for U.S. consumers, who will now have greater choice at the pump.
"Now that the final word has been issued, I hope that oil companies will begin to work with biofuel producers to help bring new blends into the marketplace that allow for consumer choice and savings," Buis said.
The API called the decision a loss for consumers, safety and the environment.
"EPA approved E15 before vehicle testing was complete, and we now know the fuel may cause significant mechanical problems in millions of cars on the road today," said Harry Ng, API vice president and general counsel.
The ethanol industry called that a scare tactic and said there have been no documented cases of engine breakdowns caused by the high-ethanol blend since limited sales of E15 began last year.