With nationwide gasoline prices hitting a four-year high — above $3 per gallon on average — farm and biofuel organizations are continuing to call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to give summer drivers access to high-octane E15 fuel and save consumers as much as 15 cents per gallon.
E15, a 15% ethanol blend, is available in 29 states and at approximately 1,500 locations for about nine months of the year. Most retailers don’t offer the low-cost fuel because burdensome EPA rules limit its use and confuse consumers. Out-of-date regulations unnecessarily prohibit E15 use for most drivers for more than three months of the year.
E15 has been approved for all 2001 model year and newer vehicles. “But current EPA rules restrict the sale of E15 between June 1 and Sept. 15. Only flex-fuel vehicles can legally use E15 during the summer,” notes Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association. “You can buy E15 at some stations that are still selling it after June 1, but you have to put it in a flex-fuel vehicle.”
Who enforces E15 summertime rule?
What if you buy E15 and put it in a non-flex-fuel vehicle? That’s not legal; you’re not supposed to do that. Who enforces this law? The E15 police? The gas station owner or manager? No gas station has an attendant who is going to come look at what you are putting into your car’s gas tank or check whether you have a flex-fuel vehicle. “This shows the ridiculousness of the situation,” Shaw says. “EPA needs to proclaim that it’s OK to use E15 year-round. It’s actually cleaner for the air than E10.”
Think about how much time is wasted replacing E15 stickers on pumps twice a year, he adds. Retail gas stations must do that on June 1 and Sept. 15 to comply with the rules. Also, some people don’t know whether they have a flex-fuel vehicle. If there is a yellow cap on your car or truck’s gas tank, you have a flex-fuel vehicle.
Calling on EPA to act quickly
“Americans expecting a tax break this year could see those dollars eaten up by skyrocketing fuel costs,” says Kyle Gilley, vice president of external affairs for Poet, the largest U.S. maker of ethanol. “President Trump has committed to fixing the E15 regulatory problem and providing a long-term solution to fluctuating gas prices. Thus, we are calling on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his agency to act quickly to allow year-round sales of E15.”
E15 has been proven effective with more than 4 billion miles driven by U.S. consumers. Biofuels are lower cost in part because they are made in the United States by U.S. workers with a feedstock grown on U.S. farms. The biofuels industry supports 400,000 jobs nationwide.
“When drivers fill up with biofuels, they not only save money, they support American jobs, rural communities and national security,” Gilley says. “EPA approval of year-round E15 use would have a dramatic, positive impact on our country. It needs to happen now.”
E15 more affordable, better for environment
Consumers across the country lose access to the E15 option on June 1, just as families plan to hit the road on summer vacation and gas prices are on the rise. Despite Trump’s repeated statement that he is committed to year-round E15, EPA’s outdated regulatory barrier still limits the ability of fuel retailers to offer ethanol blends greater than 10% in most of the country from June 1 to Sept. 15.
The National Corn Growers Association is urging EPA to quickly take steps to remove the barrier and allow for year-round sales of ethanol blends greater than 10%.
“E15 is typically more affordable at the pump and is better for the environment,” says NCGA President Kevin Skunes. “There is no good reason to limit access to E15 in the summer, an especially busy time for families making more stops to refuel.”
Federal regulations limit the amount of evaporative emissions from vehicle fuel, as measured by its Reid Vapor Pressure. Fuels blended with up to 10% ethanol have a 1-pound RVP waiver because ethanol-blended fuels reduce tailpipe emissions. To date, EPA has declined to grant a similar waiver to E15, even though research shows E15 produces the same or fewer evaporative emissions as E10.
At a White House meeting in May, Trump reaffirmed his commitment to providing RVP parity for E15 and allowing consumers to have more choice at the pump year-round. EPA, however, has yet to announce the necessary revised regulatory steps to make this a reality.
“NCGA believes EPA should address the RVP regulatory barrier separately and should not combine the agreed-upon RVP fix with proposals that would be damaging to our export markets, such as offering biofuels credits on ethanol exports,” Skunes says.
As the June 1 deadline approached, “we were hopeful we could get EPA to approve marketing of E15 this summer for use in non-flex fuel vehicles,” says U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “But that didn’t happen.” Grassley says, “We may have to wait until next year to get rid of the E15 rule, as details with EPA need to be worked out. But Scott Pruitt could act now to lift the rule this summer, while the longer-term fix is finalized. Meanwhile, any gasoline blended with over 10% ethanol can’t be legally put into a vehicle other than a flex-fuel vehicle from June 1 until Sept. 15.”
No reason to wait
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and IRFA’s Shaw also see no reason for EPA to wait until next year to remove the barrier. They say Pruitt could issue a waiver and allow E15 to be used this summer, while working on a longer-term revision of the regulation to allow E15 to be used year-round in years ahead.
“Until the formal rulemaking process is completed, we are calling on EPA Administrator Pruitt to not enforce the E15 summertime restriction,” Naig says. “President Trump has ordered EPA to remove the summertime restriction.”