WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline for newer vehicles, allowing the corn-based fuel to be up to 15 percent of mixtures sold at the pump.
The current maximum blend is 10 percent. The EPA announced Wednesday that the higher blend will be approved for cars and light duty trucks manufactured since 2007, if retailers want to sell it.
"Thorough testing has now shown that E15 does not harm emissions control equipment in newer cars and light trucks," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. "Wherever sound science and the law support steps to allow more homegrown fuels in America's vehicles, this administration takes those steps."
The move, which comes less than a month before November's midterm elections, is politically popular in rural farm areas. But ethanol faces strong opposition from the auto industry, environmentalists, cattle ranchers, food companies, and other groups.
Opponents argue that the increase in production of corn and its diversion into ethanol is making animal feed more expensive, raising prices at the grocery store, and tearing up the land. Manufacturers of smaller engines - used in everything from lawn mowers to boats - also oppose increasing the use of the fuel, saying those engines are not designed for the higher concentrations.
The Obama Administration has remained supportive of the renewable fuel, and the EPA has said a congressional mandate for increased ethanol use can't be achieved without allowing higher blends. Congress has required refiners to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels, mostly ethanol, into auto fuel by 2022.