Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) will hold a hearing before his Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next week on a measure the ethanol industry says is long overdue. The sector views the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (S.517) as critically important, as evidenced by a statement from one advocacy coalition who says the Senate “has a momentous opportunity to take the next leap forward in the evolution of clean energy.”
The bill, introduced in March by a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), would amend the Clean Air Act to address the limitations on Reid vapor pressure (RVP, a measure of gasoline’s volatility) that are placed by the EPA on gasoline during the summer ozone season. Essentially, the measure would apply the same RVP requirements and allowances that apply to gasoline blended with 10-percent ethanol (E10) to gasoline blended with more than 10-percent ethanol. That means the EPA waiver given to E10 gasoline, which allows an increase in the RVP volatility, would be extended to E15 and other midlevel blends. (A similar measure has been introduced in the House – H.R.1311.)
In 2011, EPA approved E15 for use in model year 2001 vehicles and newer – comprising more than 80 percent of the cars on the road today. Vehicle manufacturers have also certified the use of E15 in at least two-thirds of the U.S. market for the latest model year vehicles.
Yet, the ethanol industry has pleaded without success for years with EPA to change the summer RVP rules, despite an analysis done by researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2012 that showed “the RVP impact of 15-percent ethanol is indistinguishable from that of 10-percent ethanol in gasoline for all volatility seasons and base hydrocarbon vapor pressures.”
The NREL analysis says there is no technical reason for regulating E15, or E20 for that matter, differently than E10, as their RVP ratings during summer months are similar. While E10 can be sold year-round, E15 is not permitted for use as a summer blend in most areas of the country as it does not currently have the EPA waiver.
Gas station owners want to sell E15 year-round, but can only freely sell E15 in much of the country from Sept. 15 to May 31. Come summer, they must label the fuels as available for Flex Fuel Vehicles only, due to EPA’s waiver applying only to blends with less than 10-percent ethanol. This requires changing signage and other administrative hurdles that are subsequently viewed by fuel retailers as costly impediments to selling E15.
How we got to this barrier goes back to the adoption of the Clean Air Act, which limits the evaporative haze that comes when drivers refuel in the summer and can cause smog. Because ethanol-blended fuels reduce carbon monoxide, tailpipe and particulate emissions, Congress granted 10 percent ethanol-blended fuel a regulatory allowance relative to RVP as a tradeoff for those improved emissions. That waiver was authorized in 1990, 21 years before E15 was even approved as a fuel. While Congress did not then envision a 15 percent ethanol fuel, lawmakers certainly did not intend for the RVP provision to limit the availability of ethanol-blended gasoline. In fact, the waiver provision was designed in part to encourage the use of ethanol in fuel.
The benefits of selling E15 year-round are evident:
· Fuel with higher blends of ethanol like E15 can cut carbon emissions by 43 percent compared to standard E10 gasoline, cleaning the air we breathe and lowering health risks associated with cancer and asthma.
· E15 saves drivers an average of 5 to 10 cents per gallon – savings that add up over the year.
· Without consumer access to E15, there’s little incentive to invest in research and development. Providing greater certainty in the fuel supply for higher blends of renewable fuel will generate additional innovations and investments in the next generation of advanced and cellulosic biofuels.
· Biofuels play a vital role in strengthening America’s energy and economic security. In 2016, biofuels containing ethanol displaced more than 500 million barrels of imported oil. Renewable fuels also give consumers the freedom to choose homegrown biofuels that reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil, while helping grow jobs here in the United States.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he favors the change, but remains unsure if the agency has the statutory authority to approve the RVP waiver for E15 fuel. Therefore, Congress has a responsibility to help make cleaner burning biofuels more accessible to consumers and eliminate the unnecessary barrier facing E15 in markets across the country. The 25x’25 Alliance calls on stakeholders to reach out to lawmakers and urge them to amend as soon as possible an outdated rule that gets in the way of a cleaner and healthier environment. Updating the RVP waiver for E15 will keep America on the leading edge of clean energy technology, and will also greatly benefit consumers and our planet for many years to come.