FTC to Require Detailed Alternative-Fuel Labels

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Trade Commission has proposed new labeling requirements for blended gasoline to help consumers find the correct fuel for their cars. The new action is the agency's attempt to address consumer concerns regarding accurate octane ratings and fuel efficiency for alternative fuels, and possible harm to engines from using the wrong fuel.
     In 2009, the FTC began a review of its fuel ratings regulation, and requested comments on proposed changes regarding ethanol blends. In 2011, the agency issued final amendments for other fuels and deferred consideration of ethanol blend labeling "to consider an Environmental Protection Agency decision regarding the use of certain ethanol blends in certain vehicles," according to the agency's press release.
     Existing regulations mandate methods for rating and certifying fuels, and posting the ratings at the point of sale. Refiners, importers and producers of any liquid automotive fuel must determine the "automotive fuel rating" and certify the fuel before transferring it to a distributor. Retailers must post the fuel rating on the pump and there are precise specifications regarding the content, size, color and font of the labels.
     Today, almost all gasoline in the United States contains up to 10 percent ethanol. A blend called E15 contains 10-15 percent ethanol and has been approved by the EPA for cars made in 2001 and after, and is already marked with an orange label at the pump.
     The new FTC rule would exempt E15 from its labeling requirements, but would require that other blends with more ethanol be rated by the percentage of ethanol, rounded to the nearest 10 percent. Previous requirements allowed industry labeling that merely noted the ethanol content was between 10 and 70 percent.
     The more exact fuel-concentration disclosure was favored by commenters. "Several argued that consumers needed more specificity because fuel economy decreases as ethanol concentration increases, affecting consumers' overall fuel costs," according to the action.
     The proposed labels would also contain the disclosures "may harm some vehicles" and "check owner's manual," because cars continue to have varying ethanol tolerances, which require more precise disclosure, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which was quoted in the action.
     Due to many comments on infrared sensor technology, the FTC also has proposed the use of the new technology to measure octane levels.
     The FTC requests additional comments and information regarding the extent of engine harm caused by using ethanol blends, the extent of "misfueling" that is happening at the pumps due to inadequate disclosures, the efficacy of proposed label wording, and the costs and benefits of the proposed labeling changes.
     Comments on the FTC's proposed rule are due June 2.