The U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would change the language in a federal regulation that currently restricts the use of ethanol-blended fuels containing over 10% ethanol during summer months. The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (S. 517) would lift the summertime restriction on E15 sales. E15 is a high-octane fuel that’s 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing June 14, and lawmakers hope for a mark-up of the legislation in July.
Speaking to reporters during a recent teleconference, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the bill will not go through Congress fast enough to make a difference in E15 availability this summer, but he hopes it can be passed by both the House and Senate in time for summer 2018. He says there is bipartisan support for the legislation.
Bill would amend federal CAA
The proposed bill would change the wording in the Clean Air Act dealing with Reid vapor pressure (RVP), which measures the volatility of gasoline and gasoline-ethanol blends.
Currently, during summer driving months (June 1 to Sept. 15), fuel retailers cannot offer E15 to nonflex fuel vehicles (FFVs) because it violates the RVP limits, set by the law. “This is an arcane regulatory barrier,” says Kurt Hora, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
In 1990, Congress limited the amount of evaporative emissions from vehicle fuel at 9 pounds per square inch (psi) RVP. Pure ethanol has a 3-psi RVP, only when combined with gasoline at low levels, does the RVP of ethanol blended fuel exceed 9 psi. Despite E15 having a lower RVP profile than E10, E10 has been granted a 1-pound-per-psi RVP waiver, while E15 has not received the same treatment.
Need consistent treatment of E15, E10
“Fuel retailers want to offer American drivers E15 as another choice at the pump that can save motorists money, increase vehicle performance, help improve their business and improve the environment,” says Hora. “For corn farmers, who currently sell one-third of their crop for renewable fuel production, removing a barrier that discourages many retailers from selling E15 is a no-cost means to increase grain demand that provides significant benefits to consumers as well.”
E15 produces lower emissions than regular gasoline, and E15 can be sold year-round in areas with air quality challenges. Using E15 nationwide would reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 39.5 million tons, the equivalent of removing 6.3 million vehicles from American roadways.
“ICGA supports consistent treatment of E15 and E10 — often referred to as super unleaded — regarding summer blends, vapor pressure caps and waivers,” says Hora. “We urge the Senate committee that’s currently considering this bill to approve and advance this legislation this summer.”
IRFA urges Congress to fix E15 situation
When the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the June 14 public hearing on the proposed legislation, Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuel Association, emphasized that the unintended regulatory quirk regarding E15 needs to be fixed.
“The current regulation treats E15 and E10 differently during the summer months, which makes E15 virtually impossible to sell in most markets June through mid-September,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is a co-sponsor of the legislation and is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Iowa leads the nation in production of ethanol, and the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act would help to break down barriers that have impeded fuel retailers and consumers from accessing E15 in the summer months,” she says. At the hearing, Ernst called for relief from burdensome regulation on ethanol retailers in Iowa, as well as maintaining the current point of obligation for the Renewable Fuel Standard. Click here to watch Ernst’s exchange with industry leaders.
An example of dumb government regulation
“IRFA applauds Sen. Ernst for all the work she did to get that hearing scheduled,” says Shaw. “Testimony given that day clearly demonstrated that freezing E15 out of the marketplace during the summer hurts consumers, competition and public health. Preventing access to a high-octane fuel that is both cheaper and cleaner is truly the poster child for dumb government regulation. There is not a single legitimate reason to oppose this bill to fix this problem.”
Shaw notes, “Regardless of how senators may feel about renewable fuels, this bill is not really pro-ethanol as much as it is anti-stupid government regulation. The members of IRFA are urging the Senate committee to quickly and cleanly approve the bill to expand consumer access to E15.”
Petroleum industry lobbying against this bill
During the hearing Briggs & Stratton CEO Todd Teske raised concerns that allowing consumers the choice of E15 for vehicles in the summer could lead to misfueling of small engines such as lawnmowers. In response, Shaw made the following statement:
“I have been pleased with several Briggs & Stratton engines I’ve owned over the years and fueled with nothing but E10. Over 1 billion miles have been driven by motorists on E15 without a single report of misfueling. It never ceases to amaze me that despite all the evidence to the contrary, some industry groups continue to dance to Big Oil’s tune on E15, even when it means essentially saying your own customers are too stupid to read a straightforward fuel label.”
Shaw adds, “This bill isn’t about approving E15. E15 has already been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in all model year 2001 and newer vehicles. E15 can be sold year-round in reformulated gasoline markets and for eight and a half months of the year in conventional gasoline areas. This bill would only remove the idiotic regulatory quirk that freezes out E15 sales during the summer season in conventional gasoline areas.”