Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

Ethanol liability bill puts consumers at risk

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ethanol Liability Bill Could Put Consumers At Risk at the Pump
House Subcommittee Hearing Scheduled for Thursday

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce committee is considering a bill that would leave consumers on the hook for any product damage caused by E15 – a new blend of gasoline and ethanol – and other fuels or fuel additives. The Domestic Fuels Protection Act of 2012 (H.R. 4345) would shield fuel providers and automakers from any liability from any damage caused by these fuels.
The House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy will examine the legislation in a Thursday hearing. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, is scheduled to testify.
“Rather than trying to solve the problem of preventing damage from E15 and easing its transition into the marketplace, this bill would simply sweep aside all liability for everyone but the consumer,” said Shannon Baker Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union testifying at the hearing. “Immunizing fuel providers on the one hand and vehicle and equipment manufacturers on the other leaves consumers squeezed in the middle.”
On July 25, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued regulations to help upstream fuel providers, retailers, and consumers avoid mistakenly fueling with E15 for vehicles and non-road engines for which E15 is not compatible, including vehicles manufactured before 2001 and other outdoor power equipment like mowers or boat engines. Misfueling can result in significant costs to consumers, including engine and other part replacement and paying for damage.
Fuel providers and product manufacturers argue that they won’t sell E15 or honor warranties for products that use it if they are held accountable for any of the resulting damage. However, eliminating all liability removes incentives for manufacturers and fuel providers to properly inform customers of the risks of misfueling as new fuels like E15 are introduced.
In its testimony, the consumer group also proposed solutions to help reduce consumer confusion and avoid misfueling. Suggestions ranged from iconic labels on gas pumps to identify non-compatible products to prompts confirming E15 purchases, as well as separate dispensers for non-vehicle fueling.
Baker-Branstetter said, “Some level of misfueling is inevitable, but retailers should do all they can to minimize it, instead of an avoidable pattern. All parties recognize the risks from selling a new fuel that is incompatible with many existing vehicles and equipment, but this risk should not be born solely by consumers.”

Contact: David Butler, dbutler@consumer.org, or Kara Kelber, kkelber@consumer.org, 202-462-6262