CHICAGO (CBS) — A measure to require many gas stations in Chicago to sell gasoline with a higher mix of ethanol stalled in the City Council on Monday, after a marathon Finance Committee hearing.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports dueling experts clashed during a nearly five-hour hearing on a proposal that would require large gas stations in the city to install pumps that dispense so-called E15 blend gasoline, which contains 15 percent ethanol. Most gas currently sold at gas stations has a blend of 10 percent ethanol.
Gas stations that sell fewer than 500,000 gallons of gasoline a year, or those with underground storage tanks incompatible with E15 blend gasoline, would be exempt from the mandate. No stations would be barred from continuing to sell a 10 percent blend.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th), who sponsored the proposal, said E15 burns cleaner than the gas now on the market, and saves money for motorists, “providing Chicago drivers with an option at the pump that can actually save them real dollars.”
Thomas Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers, said gas station operators need not fear the cost of converting their stations to pump E15.
“We hear these fear stories all the time. It’s a scare tactic to try to run up the costs,” he said. “There’s a group called the Petroleum Equipment Institute that estimates that the average cost would be about $1,000.”
However, opponents have said the transition to E15 pumps could cost $8,000 to $100,000 per station.
Dr. Michael Lynch, vice president of green innovation for NASCAR, said the E15 blend works just fine on the stock car circuit.
“We’ve been running now for six million miles, Sunoco Green E15 – which is exactly the kind of street fuel that is being proposed here – with great performance, and no issues whatsoever,” he said.
But Kimberly Pendo, of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, said there’s more to the story.
“Those [NASCAR] engines were designed specifically to run on E15,” she said. “So, for them to … claim otherwise, I find hard to believe.”
University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson said increased use of E15 fuel in vehicles would increase overall environmental damage from pesticides and herbicides, and the use of irrigation water needed to grow corn for ethanol production.
“It also has the effect of raising the cost of food, anywhere from animal food to corn tortillas or anything else,” he said.
The AAA has said more than 90 percent of all cars on the road have not been approved by manufacturers to use E15, and the blend should only be used by vehicles with “flex fuel” engines, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved E15 for use in cars manufactured since 2001.
By the end of the hearing, several aldermen had left the Council Chamber, and the committee took no vote on the proposal.