An EPA official told Congress earlier this month that the agency does not require use of E15, but believes it is safe for cars built since 2001.
"The government is not saying 'go ahead' " and put E15 in all cars, said Christopher Grundler, of the EPA's director of the office of transportation and air quality. "The government is saying this is legal fuel to sell if the market demands it and there are people who wish to sell it."
Ethanol supporters say E15 is cheaper than conventional gasoline and offers similar mileage to E10, the version that is sold in most U.S. stations.
Scott Zaremba, who owns a chain of gas stations in Kansas, scoffs at claims that E15 would damage older cars. "In the real world I've had zero problems" with engine breakdowns, said Zaremba, whose station in Lawrence, Kan., was the first in the nation to offer E15 last year.
But Zaremba said he had to stop selling the fuel this spring after his gasoline supplier, Phillips 66, told him he could no longer sell the E15 fuel from his regular black fuel hoses. The company said the aim was to distinguish E15 from other gasoline with less ethanol, but Zaremba said the real goal was to discourage use of E15. New pumps cost more than $100,000.
The American Automobile Association, for now, sides with the oil industry. The motoring club says the government should halt sales of E15 until additional testing allows ethanol producers and automakers to agree on which vehicles can safely use E15 while ensuring that consumers are adequately informed of risks.
A spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 major car makers, said E15 gas is more corrosive and the EPA approved it before it could be fully tested.