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The great ethanol debate

Despite problems with current 10 percent fuel formulation, producers are pushing to raise it to 15. But boaters have until July 20 to make their voices heard.

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Steve Giallanzo was hit with a double whammy when the fuel dock in the marina where his business is located began selling the biofuel E10 - gasoline with 10 percent ethanol - last July.

As a master Yamaha technician, Giallanzo was seeing a sharp spike in the number of disgruntled customers with fuel-related engine problems. At the same time, ethanol was taking a toll on the twin 150-hp 4-strokes that power his 23-foot Grady-White.

"I ran 800 hours without a problem, and then with ethanol the injectors were getting plugged up every 100 hours," says Giallanzo, the proprietor of Sailfish Marine Service in Stuart, Fla. "I go to the Bahamas all the time [to fish]. I don't need problems. The government should not be putting ethanol in marine fuel."

Since it first appeared in the Northeast about four years ago, E10 has been a major headache for those who operate or repair marine engines. Engine manufacturers, mechanics and boatyard crews have worked hard to mitigate E10-induced engine and fuel-system problems.

"We're managing," says Dan Crete, the head of customer service at Burr Brothers Boats in Marion, Mass. "[Dealing with E10] is part of the business."

Crete and others may soon be forced to deal with gasoline with 50 percent more ethanol - E15. Growth Energy, a group representing the nation's ethanol producers, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency in March for a waiver to allow ethanol blends of up to 15 percent. The National Marine Manufacturers Association, the boating industry trade group, and BoatU.S., the nation's largest organization of recreational boaters, argue that the EPA should deny the E15 waiver request until independent and comprehensive scientific testing is completed on a full range of marine engines and other products.

NEXT: Your chance to speak out - public comment period ends July 20