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Herseth Sandlin, Thune slam EPA on E15

Two South Dakota congressional delegates from opposite parties are unhappy -- to say the least -- with a delay by the Environmental Protection Agency in its consideration of increasing the maximum ethanol blend in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent.

"We're very frustrated, and we're making as much noise as we can about it," said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on a Thursday conference call with reporters. "We just need to get this done."

The EPA announced last week that it will wait until this fall to decide whether standard vehicle engines can handle higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline, although the EPA said initial tests "look good." The current maximum blend is often referred to as "E10." It's the maximum for vehicles that are not specially equipped to handle E85.

A decision is expected to come after the Energy Department completes testing of the higher blend on vehicles built after 2007.

The delay doesn't sit well with Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., who was clearly angered with the delay Thursday.

"This delay isn't just disappointing, it's inexcusable," she said on her conference call with reporters.

Herseth Sandlin said approval of the waiver for a higher blend would create more than 136,000 new jobs in the United States, reduce dependence on foreign oil by 7 billion gallons, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to removing 10.5 million cars from the road, and revitalize rural communities.

"I support all of these steps," she said. "That's why I'm going to be asking a lot of questions to the Department of Energy directly."

Thune said the issue has been "studied to death" and blamed special-interest groups and members of the current administration for the decision's delay.

"The energy secretary (Steven Chu) is a critic of corn-based ethanol, and he would have a lot, obviously, to say about whether or not this gets approved," Thune said. "There's just way too much political resistance to making the necessary changes."

Herseth Sandlin said "pressures" were applied to DOE employees by the automobile and oil industries.

"It is a well worn-out tactic in Washington to call out for more studies when you want inaction," she said. "I believe that same kind of pressure may be coming to bear."

Thune is concerned that the latest delay in the E-15 decision won't be the last.

"I think we know what the answers are," Thune said. "To me, these are just dilatory tactics. Stringing this thing out is only making it more difficult for one of the great answers to the challenges that we face with regard to energy independence and clean energy."

Herseth Sandlin said the country needs leadership and solutions, not more studies.

"These agencies need to lead, follow or get out of the way," she said.