Senate panel considers dropping E15 gasoline

Amid warnings from business groups and car manufacturers about using higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline, a Missouri Senate committee considered Thursday whether to permanently block a proposal allowing gas stations to sell fuel containing 15 percent ethanol.

The state Agriculture Department issued the rule last year, but a legislative panel delayed it in October over concerns that it conflicted with a 2006 state law requiring most Missouri gasoline to contain a 10 percent ethanol blend.

The House and Senate would need to pass a resolution by early March to permanently halt the proposal. Gov. Nixon would need to approve it, though lawmakers could override any veto. Nixon said previously he supports approving E15 fuel for sale in the state.

Associations for gas stations, motorcyclists and automakers warned members of the Senate rules committee Thursday that offering E15 fuel could increase liability for station owners, harm engines and cause motorists to lose vehicle warranties.

“The risk is not worth the reward when it comes to E15,” said Ron Leone, the executive director for the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

Supporters of using E15 countered that the proposal would give consumers another option at the pump and said most new cars can safely burn the fuel. Kristy Moore, vice president of technical services for the Renewable Fuels Association, said opponents were “cherry picking the risks” and pointed out that Missouri already allows gasoline with an 85 percent ethanol blend to be sold.

The Renewable Fuels Association estimates E15 fuel is sold at 59 gas stations in 12 states, including some of Missouri’s neighbors — Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas and Iowa.

Committee members focused more heavily on how the change was proposed rather than the fuel’s merits. Senators said the proposal blurred the separation of powers between the Legislature and the executive agency and said they should be the ones to make the decision about whether to allow the fuel.

Agriculture Deputy Director Harry Bozoian argued the department has authority to approve E15 without the Legislature passing a law. He said the department is continuing to push the proposal because of its importance to the agriculture community, including the corn and ethanol industry.

The resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, led the panel that delayed the proposal in October and is urging his colleagues to permanently halt it. He said the department should withdraw the E15 proposal and seek passage of a bill that would allow the fuel to be sold.

“If we go down this road and this continues by an agency, then the governor, whoever it is, will just enact rules to do whatever they want to do and the General Assembly will be cut out,” said Schmitt, R-Glendale.

The committee did not vote on the resolution and offered no timetable for future action.

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