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Editorial: EPA's plan to change course makes sense

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has changed course, and now is taking a reasonable, measured approach with E15.

This isn't earth-shattering news for the rubber industry, but it is somewhat welcome.

The EPA has issued its proposal for the 2014 Renewable Fuel standards, which calls for a 20-percent reduction in the requirement for biofuels to be blended into the nation's fuel supply. That effectively ends the concern that the federal agency shortly would force E15 gas on consumers, to meet the new national standard.

So what's the difference to the rubber industry between E10—gas with 10 percent ethanol content—and E15, which has 15 percent ethanol?

Rest assured rubber product manufacturers and their suppliers can adapt materials and compounds used for hoses, seals and other products that come in contact with gasoline to withstand a higher level of ethanol. That's why E10 gas, in use for decades, isn't a problem for automotive rubber products.

But E15? Proponents of ethanol, such as corn producers and some environmental groups, say E15 works fine in any vehicle made after 2001. However, the average U.S. vehicle now is 10.9 years old, and there still are many cars and trucks on the road that were manufactured before 2001.

Much worse, though, is that gas with an ethanol content—even E10—can damage smaller engines, such as boat motors, motorcycles and lawnmowers. A boat skipper 10 miles off the coast isn't happy when his deteriorating fuel hose starts clogging an engine.

The EPA's new proposal does not kill the mandate to increase the use of biofuels. Rather, it recognizes the nation isn't ready to up the ante, that more development needs to be done.

Ethanol doesn't have to come from corn. It can be produced from corn stalks, grass and leafs, and that needs to be pursued more.

The use of ethanol has helped reduce America's dependence on oil, but it also has driven up corn prices. That's why groups from chicken farmers to restaurants want to do away with the ethanol mandate, which is not a good idea.

The rubber industry will adjust to any standard. Like any business that is affected by ethanol, more time to do so will help.