By TENNILLE TRACY
WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission said it was
looking into assertions by some members of Congress that oil
companies are using their influence over retail gas stations to
block consumers from accessing gasoline blended with extra
The inquiry underscores the deepening divide between the
renewable fuels industry, which wants to promote E15 gasoline
containing 15% ethanol, and the oil industry, which says
consumers don't want E15. Oil producers and refiners are
pressing Congress to repeal the United States law that requires
refiners to use ever greater amounts of corn ethanol and
A pair of lawmakers, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Sen.
Chuck Grassley (Iowa), called for the FTC inquiry, saying they
had reports of instances where oil companies pressed
independent gas stations to sell premium gasoline in addition
to regular gasoline. Since most stations own only two storage
tanks, such a demand would make it impossible for gas stations
to offer higher ethanol blends without installing a new tank,
said the senators, both of whom hail from states where ethanol
"Given the implication these alleged activities could have
on competition in the marketplace, we urge you to
investigate them and consider whether any action is necessary,
they said in an Aug. 2 letter to the FTC that" described the
oil companies' alleged actions as a possible antitrust
The FTC said in a response that it would look into the
issue. The letter didn't suggest the FTC was opening a formal
The Justice Department hasn't yet responded to the
lawmakers' request, according to Mr. Grassley's staff.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil
producers, and the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which
represents refiners, said they were reviewing the senators'
letter and didn't have immediate comment on it.
A 2007 renewable fuels law forces refiners to blend a
certain number of gallons of renewable fuel into gasoline each
year. The 2013 standard requires the use of nearly 17 billion
gallons of renewable fuel, most of which is corn ethanol.
The oil industry and other critics have questioned the
wisdom of the law in recent months as overall gasoline
consumption fails to keep pace with lawmakers' expectations.
Refiners say the law forces them to use more renewable fuel
than is physically possible given that most gasoline contains
only 10% ethanol, a problem known as the blend wall.
The Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of
15% blends for newer cars, but E15 hasn't become popular with
consumers. According to the Renewable Fuels Association,
roughly 30 stations in eight states offer the 15% blend.
Renewable fuels companies say oil companies are trying to
block the use of E15. The Renewable Fuels Association, a
lobbying group for the industry, says it knows of at least one
Kansas station owner who was allegedly pressured by an oil
company to stop offering E15.
Dow Jones Newswires