Previewing a feature article in the April issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine, Editor Tom Bryan explains how the industry is struggling to find a quick and permanent solution to the regions summer E15 ban. of the country using conventional gas.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review last summer’s DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision that struck down Trump’s EPA solution for summer E15 was disappointing but instructive. While the High Court’s disinterest closes the door to the ultimate legal solution for uninterrupted access to E15, it also clarifies our remaining options: Either the EPA or Congress must act.

As we report in “The Quest to Stop E15’s Summertime Shutdown”, our industry’s trade groups – Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association and the American Ethanol Coalition – all agree that a legislative solution to the a summer ban on E15 – at least in parts of the country using conventional gasoline – would be ideal. Bipartisan legislation introduced in both houses of Congress last year could, if revived, offer a “package fix” for E15 all year. But as history explains, resuscitating and advancing such a bill in the current Congress would not only be slow and difficult, but risky.

E10 and E15, when made with conventional gasoline, have Reid Vapor Pressures (RVPs) that can slightly exceed federal limits (by less than 1 pound psi) during warm months. The Clean Air Act 1990 granted E10 a one pound waiver from the government’s RVP cap (i.e. “RVP relief”), but the landmark environmental bill did not grant the same allocation to E15, which was not sold at the time. Two years ago, as retailer interest in E15 grew, everything changed when the EPA decided on its own that E10 and E15 deserved RVP relief. Big Oil filed a complaint. The courts have listened. And the agency’s unilateral E15 solution under Trump was seen as overkill and struck down last summer. Now, with the summer ban on E15 use in many parts of the country from June 1 to September 15, the industry only has a few months to figure something out.

Admitting that a legislative solution is a near-term juggernaut, E15 proponents lean toward more plausible regulatory solutions. But while a legislative solution would extend the RVP waiver from 1 pound to E15, pending regulatory proposals would remove the waiver entirely.

The first push, already underway, uses an arcane provision of the very law that created E15’s summer problem — the Clean Air Act — to authorize the EPA to let states opt out of RVP relief entirely. This would require a transition to low volatility reformulated gasoline (RFG) which, even when blended with 10% or 15% ethanol in hot weather, remains below the federal RVP cap. Governors from eight states have asked the agency to help them figure out how to proceed with an opt-out. As of press time, the EPA had not responded.

Alternatively, trade groups say, the EPA could act on its own, proactively issuing regulations calling for the required use of a reduced-volatility blend in parts of the country where E15 is banned in the summer. A global action that rejects the one-pound waiver in favor of a low-volatility MER would also take time – and likely face opposition – but may be the most plausible coast-to-coast solution for summer E15.

With spring approaching, our professional associations know that time is running out.

Author: Tom Bryan
President and Editor

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