Bill would make ethanol-free gas available
House lawmakers are advancing a bill that would require oil refiners, gas stations and distributors to have ethanol-free gasoline available for customers who want it.
The move is aimed at addressing concerns raised by boaters, small-aircraft enthusiasts, owners of older cars and others who say ethanol-blended fuel has damaged engines and in some cases put lives at risk.
"Airplanes could fall out of the sky," said Terri Thomas, president of the Hawaii chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. "My concern is it's life-threatening."
House Bill 791, House Draft 1, was passed by the House Consumer Protection Committee and now faces a vote by the full chamber before being sent to the Senate for consideration.
State law requires that 85 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii contain at least 10 percent ethanol, an alcohol-based additive that creates a cleaner-burning fuel.
The House proposal would mandate that refiners, stations and distributors "hold, store, import, transfer and offer for sale" premium gasoline without ethanol. Lower-octane gas would still include 10 percent ethanol, while midgrade gas would be a blend of those two stocks with an ethanol content of no more than 10 percent.
Critics say the blended fuel is less efficient and damages older engines, such as those in classic cars, and Fiberglas fuel tanks on many boats and small aircraft.
Aloha Petroleum recently began making non-ethanol gasoline available on Oahu and the Big Island, where many boaters have pushed for the fuel.
Maurice Kaya, chief technology officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said the agency did its best to implement the rules and address potential consequences, but added that the concerns by boaters and pilots only surfaced after the blending mandate began last April.
Melissa Pavlicek, a representative of the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry lobbying group, said the proposed law could lead to logistical problems because refineries already have been reconfigured to produce lower-octane gas needed for blending with ethanol.
Some stations might also have to add storage tanks to keep ethanol-free gasoline separated from other grades, she said.
"There's a lot of issues, problems and concerns," she said. "We're hoping that they'll continue to work on this measure going forward before passing it."
Consumer Protection Chairman Bob Herkes (D, Volcano-Kainaliu) said he expects work to continue on the bill.
"I don't want this bill to die," he said. "We need to deal with this problem because it is so enormous."