Efforts by the ethanol industry to create a new federal rule that would weaken or eliminate important warning labels designed to prevent boaters and consumers from misfueling with prohibited higher-ethanol fuels at roadside gas pumps has Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) concerned. The national recreational boating advocacy, services and safety group recently co-signed a letter to EPA Administrator Elizabeth Dermott addressing the proposed “E15 Fuel Dispenser Labeling and Compatibility With Underground Storage Tanks” legislation (EPA-HW-OAR-202-0448) and urging the federal regulator to side with consumers on its Misfueling Mitigation Program (MMP) to ensure transparency in the sale of fuel to consumers.
“Ethanol manufacturers are pushing to blend more ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply. To accomplish that, consumers are not being fully informed at the roadside pump about the type of fuel going into their boats’ gas tanks,” said BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “New marketing schemes to brand these prohibited 15% ethanol fuels as ‘regular 88,’ promoting them as a low-cost alternative and, at the same time, attempting to drive federal rulemaking efforts to reduce and weaken warning labels at the pump is an anti-consumer one-two-three punch that should not be tolerated.”
The proposed rulemaking provides no new data on a theoretical basis to support the proposals to either decrease the stringency of the existing E15 warning label or eliminate it altogether. A 2020 Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) poll shows that only about one in five consumers know that “regular 88” — or 88 octane fuel — has more ethanol (15%) in it than 87 octane (10% ethanol) fuel.
Use of ethanol fuel blends with more than 10% ethanol, such as “regular 88,” in recreational boat engines, motorcycles, off-road vehicles and power equipment is prohibited by federal law. E15 fuels have been proven to damage engines and fuel systems, and its use in a marine engine voids the warranty.
Consumers have indicated the need for a better, more effective higher-blend ethanol fuel warning label design as well as more prominent placement of the warning label on the pump. A recent national poll shows that just 18.25% of consumers think the current E15 label used at gas pumps across the country is very effective for warning that E15 is hazardous to certain types of engines.
EPA has also worked to broaden the availability of E15 fuel in the U.S., including most recently with the 2019 repeal of summertime restrictions on its sale. These restrictions were originally implemented years ago to address concerns over the higher ethanol fuel’s contribution to ground level ozone (smog) on hot days.
“Visit a local gas station dispensing higher ethanol fuels and look for the warning label on the pump,” added Kennedy. “It’s often hidden or buried along with a mountain of promotional signage. EPA should help consumers make the right fuel choice, and efforts to weaken the Misfueling Mitigation Program, such as stripping away label elements that indicate a warning message or exclude mention of 15% ethanol altogether, only accommodate the interests of ethanol producers and harm boaters.”