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Emanuel’s opposition delays vote on E15 fuel mandate

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s concern about over-burdening small business on Wednesday stalled City Council approval of an environmental mandate that would have required Chicago gas stations to offer motorists a higher ethanol blend of fuel known as E15.

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) reacted angrily to the delay and to the suggestion that the E15 mandate he muscled through the Finance Committee he chairs just two days ago appeared to be “going nowhere” because of the mayor’s opposition.

The stalled ordinance would have made Chicago the nation’s first major city to require gas stations to offer a more environmentally-friendly blend of fuel that includes 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.

“I don’t think its over-burdening small business because only 100 gas stations would be affected…with the amendments we adopted to reduce the number of locations. There’s also $11 million available to retrofit the pumps,” Burke said.

“I don’t know how you’ve concluded it’s not going anywhere. Why would you say that? It is going someplace. It has been approved by 11-to-4 in committee and I believe there’s a majority of members of the City Council who are prepared to vote in favor of this.”

Burke got even testier, and stormed off, when a reporter noted that Emanuel appeared determine not to bring the ordinance to a vote.

“Well, it was deferred today. But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming to a vote. I don’t know how you conclude it’s not going anywhere. I don’t understand your term. That’s enough, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, before abruptly ending the interview.

Emanuel left no doubt that he was behind the parliamentary maneuver that four of his most powerful allies used to put off a vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“It needs more work… Before we take a step like that, this ordinance needs a little more time to be thought through and done in a way that doesn’t put undue burdens on the small businesses, but also makes sure that our goal as a city from an environmental policy is also met,” the mayor said.

“You have individual franchisee owners. I’ve got to make sure the financial burden on them is not over-bearing.”

Emanuel was asked whether there was “some form” of the ordinance that might win his support.

“That’s a hypothetical I’m not gonna answer,” he said.

“We’re making tremendous [environmental] strides. We closed two coal plants. You know I’m working on the petcoke issue…If we do anything on E15, I don’t want to rush it. We’re gonna take the time because before we take that step is the only time you can. And I want to make sure we do it right—both from an environmental standpoint and as it relates to our small businesses.”

A top mayoral aide, who asked to remain annonymous, said E15 was “not a front-burner issue” for the mayor just over two months before the election.

“There’s only so much you can push,” the Emanuel aide said, referring to last week’s historic City Council vote to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13-an-hour by 2019.

Wednesday’s parliamentary maneuver means Chicago motorists will have to wait for the chance to purchase a higher ethanol blend at the pump, along with the potential savings that, proponents contend, comes with it.

It also means that a high-stakes debate that has become a full-employment program for clout heavy lobbyists will range on for a while longer.

The debate has played out in full-page newspaper ads and radio commercials aimed at swaying public opinion and convincing voters to “call your alderman.”

It’s pitted big oil against the agriculture industry that produces corn converted to ethanol. Environmental and health groups have also supported E15 while the AAA Chicago Motor Club, gas stations owners and retailers have lined up against it.

Earlier this week, Burke appeared to be preparing for defeat after pushing the watered down E15 mandate through his Finance Committee.

“The will of the Council is to move ahead one way or the other. If they want to vote this down, vote it down. But we’re moving it out of committee. It’s now gonna go to the full floor and it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. Either there’s gonna be a majority of the members in favor of this or there’s not. But it’s time to move ahead,” Burke said then.