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Automakers suing EPA over higher ethanol mix gas

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WASHINGTON — Automakers and engine manufacturers are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over a plan to allow the sale of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol.

The Obama administration ruled in October that gas stations could start selling the corn-based ethanol blend for vehicles built since the 2007 model year. It's an increase from the current blend of 10 percent ethanol.

Automakers say they are worried the EPA decision would eventually lead to motorists unknowingly filling up their older cars and trucks with E15 and hurting their engines. The problem could be exacerbated if E15 fuels are cheaper than more conventional blends, prompting owners of older vehicles to use the fuel despite the potential engine problems.

The lawsuit was filed by the automakers, boat manufacturers and outdoor power equipment manufacturers. In the suit, the trade groups say the decision could cause engines to fail and question whether the EPA's approval for E15 fuels for only certain vehicles violates the federal Clean Air Act.

"Our organizations collectively represent some 400 million engine products used by tens of millions of people every day in the United States," said Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, speaking on behalf of all of the groups. "The safe and reliable use of those products is paramount to us and our customers, and the legal action we take today is to protect those customers."

The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry group, said the EPA could have avoided market confusion if they had approved ethanol for more vehicles. The agency has said it will consider the higher ethanol concentration for vehicles made between 2001 and 2006 after the first of the year. It's unclear whether they will ever approve the blend for cars made before 2001.

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.

The ethanol industry has maintained that there is sufficient evidence to show that a 15 percent ethanol blend in motor fuel will not harm engine performance. They say increased consumption of the renewable fuel creates new jobs and replaces imported oil.

The petition was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.