The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the first applications for the registration of ethanol for use in making gasoline that contains up to 15 percent ethanol, bringing us “another step closer to consumers being confused by the offering of E15 at their local gas station,” according to Cindy Squires, chief counsel for public affairs and director of regulatory affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“Registration of ethanol to make E15 is a significant step toward its production, sale and use in model year 2001 and newer gasoline-fueled cars and light trucks,” the EPA said in a statement.

To enable widespread use of E15, the Obama administration has set a goal to help fueling station owners install 10,000 blender pumps during the next five years. In addition, through the Recovery Act and the 2008 Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have provided grants, loans and loan guarantees to spur “American ingenuity on the next generation of biofuels,” according to the agency.

Registration is a prerequisite to introducing E15 into the marketplace. Before it can be sold, manufacturers must take additional measures to help ensure that retail stations and other gasoline distributors understand and implement labeling rules and other E15-related requirements.

The EPA is not requiring the use or sale of E15, and it is not permitted for use in motor vehicles built prior to the 2001 model year and in off-road vehicles and equipment such as boats and lawn and garden equipment.

The NMMA, and other industry groups, oppose E15, saying it can too easily find its way into boat and other engines for which it was not designed. Studies have shown that E15 can harm marine engines.

“It is difficult to say when the first E15 pumps will be operational, but given the speed in which EPA is working to complete the steps it is possible that in the next year or two that we could see the first pumps appear in a few states,” Squires said in an e-mail to Soundings Trade Only. “Of course, this whole E15 experiment could take a completely different turn if the court overturns the EPA waiver and sends the agency back to the drawing board.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has scheduled oral argument for April 17 in the NMMA’s case challenging the EPA action. Squires said she is “hopeful” the court will issue its ruling soon after oral arguments.

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