WASHINGTON -- The partial government shutdown is threatening the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) “ambitious” timeline for approving year-round sales of E15, Bloomberg reported.
The EPA has targeted May to announce a final rule that would provide the 15% ethanol blend with a waiver of summertime Reid vapor pressure (RVP) requirements. Last October, the Trump administration directed the EPA to begin rule-making to provide E15 with the waiver, which would allow the ethanol blend’s sale year-round. Currently, fuel retailers in most markets can only sell E15 from June 1 to Sept. 15 to drivers of flex-fuel vehicles.
Currently, however, the EPA is working with a skeleton staff as the partial government shutdown enters its third week. In a statement to Reuters, a spokesman for the agency insisted the May target date would be met.
“This is a priority for both President Trump and Acting Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler," said spokesperson Michael Abboud. “The ongoing partial shutdown will not impede EPA’s ability to keep to our deadline.”
Experts told Bloomberg that the partial shutdown would make conditions difficult to meet the deadline.
“If you start getting in beyond these two weeks, here, then it does begin to ramp up the pressure because there won’t be people there to work on this stuff,” Paul Argyropoulos, president of Policy Nexus Advisors, Damascus, Md., and a former senior policy adviser for the EPA, told Bloomberg last week.
Argyropoulos expects the EPA’s E15 ruling to be legally challenged as soon as it is announced. Opponents in the refining industry have questioned whether the EPA has the legal authority to provide an RVP waiver or whether Congress needs to do so.
“From the outset, the EPA gave itself very little wiggle room to complete the year-round E15 rule-making before summer, so the shutdown is making a tight timeline even tighter,” Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, Washington, D.C., told Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, activities related to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) may also be paused during the partial government shutdown, said Neelesh Nerurkar, vice president and senior analyst for ClearView Energy Partners, Washington, D.C. This would include the EPA’s efforts at reforming the market for renewable identification numbers (RINs)—the credits used by obligated parties such as refiners to prove compliance with RFS blending quotas—revisiting biofuel consumption targets for 2020 to 2022 and considering small refinery exemptions.
“The longer staff cannot work on these RFS actions, the more challenging it makes an already challenging first quarter,” Nerurkar told the news outlet.