By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Gasoline containing up to 15 percent ethanol should be available for the coming summer driving season as the government moves to finalize labeling and other issues for the new motor fuel.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved in January raising the amount of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent for newer cars and trucks from 10 percent, a ruling welcomed by the industry and by farmers who supply the corn to make the fuel.
The government will finalize in a few months the labels on the gasoline pumps, which are designed to protect consumers from using the fuel in unapproved engines, the head of the EPA told Congress on Thursday.
"We are now in the process of completing a rule that will establish national labeling," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing. "We expect to issue a final rule in the next few months."
Jackson also said the EPA will officially register E15 this spring, which is required under the Clean Air Act before the fuel can be sold.
The agency recently received emissions and health information to support the registration application for E15. "We expect to complete our review of that information in two to three months," she said.
That means E15 will likely be available nationwide this summer, according to industry officials. Some service stations will probably continue selling E10 gasoline during the transition to E15 this summer, which would require separate storage tanks for the two fuels or special blender pumps.
Critics say boosting the amount of ethanol in gasoline will cause already high corn prices to rise further and reduce already thin stocks for the grain.
Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, said putting E15 into the market will help consumers suffering from soaring gasoline prices.
"Lifting the regulatory barriers preventing higher blends of U.S.-made ethanol from getting into the pump would start to push gas prices down right away," said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis.
E15 is approved vehicles built since 2001 and there are now more than 150 million cars and trucks on the road that could use it, which represents 74 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption.
By 2014, the EPA estimates E15 will be used in more than 187 million vehicles that will account for 85 percent of gasoline demand.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)