Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found in a 2-1 decision that automakers, petroleum refiners, and food producers lack standing to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) approval of E15 — a blend of gasoline and 15% ethanol — for motor vehicles manufactured after 2000.
Petitioners argued that the EPA acted illegally. Section 211(f) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits the introduction of new fuels and additives into the U.S. motor fuel supply unless the manufacturer demonstrates that such fuels or additives “will not cause or contribute to a failure of any emission control device or system” of any motor vehicle, motor vehicle engine, nonroad vehicle, or nonroad engine manufactured after model year 1974. By the EPA’s own admission, E15 can contribute to emission failures in vehicles manufactured between 1975 and 2000. Petitioners argued that CAA 211(f) gives the EPA no authority to grant a “partial waiver” for the sale of new fuels or additives to a subset of vehicles (e.g., model years 2001 and later).
Chief Justice David Sentelle and Judge David Tatel held that petitioners lack standing to sue. According to Sentelle and Tatel, petitioners could not show that the EPA’s approval of E15 would likely cause a ‘concrete’ and ‘imminent’ injury to any automaker, refiner, or food producer.
I’ll grant that the automakers’ asserted injury may be ‘speculative’ or ‘conjectural.’ However, it is hard to fathom how the EPA’s approval of E15 would not impose substantial costs on both petroleum refiners and food producers. The switch from E10 to E15 means a 50% increase in the quantity of ethanol blended into the nation’s motor fuel supply, potentially increasing ethanol sales from 14 billion gallons a year to 21 billion gallons. Since nearly all U.S. ethanol today comes from corn, the switch to E15 could substantially increase demand for corn, corn prices, and the quantity of corn diverted from feed and food production to motor fuel production.