Much like the monsters that won't die in horror movies, ethanol refuses to go away. Now, the son of ethanol, E-15, will likely become a bigger part of the United States’ fuel supply as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reconfirmed its approval of the controversial fuel additive.

EPA’s approval of E-15 – fuel that is 15-percent ethanol – means it will very likely replace E-10 (10-percent ethanol) in much of the nation’s fuel supply, which is not good news for marine or other small engines or even cars and trucks manufactured before 2002.

Companies that produce small engines know how bad ethanol is for them and include warnings against use of any fuel with an ethanol content higher than 10 percent, but the EPA and Congress have done nothing to correct the ethanol fuels mandate from the Renewable Fuel Standards Act of 2007.

The EPA gave it a passing shot when it issued long-awaited revised ethanol volume figures for the RFS in late May. Based on U.S. fuel consumption being down from when the RFS was drafted, the EPA proposed a reduction to 16.3 billion gallons of ethanol in 2015, down from the 20.5 billion gallons originally set in the 2007 legislation.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) and users of the affected engines are calling for the elimination of a corn ethanol mandate in any form. Fuel sales and consumption data shows a growing demand for ethanol-free gas.

"The three year combined rule released by the EPA marks yet another step backwards with regard to the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said T. Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA vice president of legal and federal affairs. “(This) will make it increasingly difficult for consumers to obtain low-ethanol and ethanol-free fuel blends required to run many engines successfully, and will further promote the expansion of E-15 — a known harmful fuel to marine and off-road engines. If the EPA must continue to stand by the introduction of high ethanol-blended fuels, at the very least it should engage in widespread public outreach efforts to educate consumers on the problems they may face including engine damage, voided warranties and costly repairs.”

The latest EPA proposal has also angered ethanol producers and corn growers. Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, was quoted on June 4 as saying, "We have sincere concerns that these proposed numbers are not moving forward to the degree that Congress has intended for the RFS. Congress had mandated billions more gallons both now and in the years ahead than the EPA is proposing." 

Monte Shaw, executive director of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said  "The Obama Administration has no legal authority to reduce the ethanol numbers. For conventional biofuels, this is a path to nowhere. The proposed ethanol level for 2016 is less than what we already produced in 2014.”

While the ethanol fuel debate simmers, the use of ethanol fuels and especially the number of locations carrying E-15 and higher blends of ethanol is growing. There is increasing concern that consumers will mistakenly use E-15 fuel in engines not engineered to use it and cause major damage, maybe non-repairable damage.

"I don't like ethanol and I'm really concerned about increasing the percentage to E-15," said Tony Rhodes of Greg's Outboard Center in Holly Ridge, N.C. "We already see a whole lot of engines with damage from E-10. It is very corrosive and causes a lot of damage, and you know it will be worse with E-15. Offhand and being conservative, I would guess that repairs caused by ethanol account for at least 50 percent of our repair business. Ethanol causes a lot of problems with just about everything it touches as it goes through the fuel system from the tank to the cylinder."

These EPA proposals are not yet law, but EPA expects to finalize the numbers by Nov. 30. The EPA will hold a hearing on these proposals on June 25. The public can also offer comments through July 27 through Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2015-0111, to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: