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MARION, Iowa -- Six Iowa gas stations were forced to stop selling the alternative fuel E15 as of June 1. Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), said during a press conference today that the halt in E15 sales is due to summer fuel blending volatility limits caused by “Big Oil's monopoly power over [fuel] distribution.”
"There's a hypocrisy on the part Big Oil," Shaw said. "They claim retailers don't want to sell E15 and consumers don't want to buy it. That simply is not true."
Backing up that statement was Jim Becthold, service manager for Linn Coop Oil Co., which operates a gas station in Marion, Iowa. The station became the first in the Hawkeye State to offer E15 on Sept. 17, 2012, but Becthold said he can no longer receive the proper blend stock to formulate the alternative fuel.
"Consumers asked me on Saturday, [June 1] why we had to bag the E15 pump," Becthold said during today’s press conference. "E15 is better performing and cleaner burning than [traditional petroleum]. But we can't sell it because we can't get the blend stock."
Linn Coop Oil and the other five Iowa gas stations that sold E15 will be able to do so again in September because fuel volatility limits in the summer are different than other seasons due to evaporative concerns, according to the service manager.
"If Big Oil could restrict the blend stock retailers receive during other times of the year, they would," Shaw added. "But they can't."
The IRFA's executive director noted that Big Oil's monopoly on the fuel distribution process in Iowa is the primary reason why retailers there can’t offer an E15 blend.
"The reason E15 can't be offered is because it means lower profits for Big Oil companies," said Shaw. "Consumers are being denied competition for lower-priced fuel."
In fact, E15 -- which was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for sale for all 2001 or newer cars -- sold for 5 cents cheaper than E10 at Becthold's gas station on Friday.
The closure of Iowa's E15 fuel pumps has not gone unnoticed by politicians. U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) joined the press conference and stated that the government is facing a multi-tiered fight against Big Oil and its war on renewable fuels, as well as a mounting campaign calling for the repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to use 13.8 billion gallons of ethanol this year and 15 billion by 2015. Ethanol is typically combined with gasoline in a formula of up to 10 percent.
"With the price of gas surging in the Midwest, Iowans should have as many choices at the pump as possible. With their actions, oil companies are essentially restricting the sale of E15, a fuel option that helps reduce the price of gasoline. That’s why they should immediately reverse course and agree to ship blend stock that allows the sale of E15 to more drivers," said Braley, who serves on the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee.
Although Linn Coop Oil cannot sell E15 for another three months, it continues to sell E30, E85 and the commonly offered E10. In a direct response to a CSNews Online question, Becthold said he has yet to face any misfueling concerns or subsequent legal actions resulting from misfueling.
"The pumps are clearly marked that they sell E15," he said. "We also really make sure to educate both our staff and consumers about it. If we see a vehicle we think may not fit the E15 requirement, we check the VIN [vehicle identification number] to make sure it is from 2001 or newer."
Also in response to a question posed by CSNews Online, Shaw said the belief that auto manufacturers will void a vehicle warranty if it ever uses E15 fuel is a misconception. "Auto manufacturers can only reject a warranty claim if they can trace the cause of the problem to the extra 5 percent of ethanol in the fuel," he said.
Shaw was referring to the fact that most fuel sold in the United States today contains a blend of 10 percent ethanol.
Only a handful of U.S. retailers currently offer E15 at the pump. It is uncertain whether any gas stations in other states are facing similar problems. Calls placed to other convenience stores offering E15 were not returned as of press time.
Editor's Note: From June 1 through Sept. 15, Iowa petroleum marketers are permitted to sell E15 to flex-fuel vehicles only.