Pending Waiver 'Key for E15 Expansion'

EPA to finish analysis of statutory authority 'very soon'

WASHINGTON -- The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has “hope” that the agency will be able to decide soon on a critical regulatory roadblock to E15’s expansion.

While the EPA has approved E15, the 15% ethanol/gasoline blend, for use in 2001 and newer vehicles, only flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) can legally use it during the summer in many markets. The EPA regulates fuels’ Reid vapor pressure (RVP), which measures evaporation rate, to control ozone and smog in the summer months. While Congress approved an RVP waiver for E10, a 10% ethanol/gasoline blend, that allows it to be sold year-round, the EPA has not provided one for E15.

In remarks at a meeting of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) on May 3, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the EPA was considering its ability to provide an RVP waiver, Agri-Pulse reported, and he sounded optimistic that the agency could act.

“We are looking at that internally, to allow E15 to be sold throughout the year, a national waiver if you will,” Pruitt said. “There’s a statutory analysis that’s ongoing, and we’re hopefully going to be able to conclude that process very soon. I very much hope we can get there; it’s just a matter of whether the statute permits it or not.”

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Washington, D.C., told Agri-Pulse that the EPA does have the regulatory authority to provide the waiver, and that it was critical to the growth of E15.

“One way or another, there has to be parity with respect to 10% ethanol and higher blended fuels,” he said. “And unless you do that, the growth on E15 and higher blends is going to continue to be incremental. If you want to see meaningful growth, see the marketplace truly take off, if you want to really provide consumers choice, there has to be parity on volatility regulation.”

Chris Bliley, director of regulatory affairs of Growth Energy, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents ethanol producers, agreed that the waiver is “key for E15 expansion.”

“Obviously as more and more retailers are selling E15 this becomes more and more of an issue, particularly when we get closer to June 1, when that vapor pressure control comes into effect,” he told Agri-Pulse. Since the start of 2017, a string of large convenience-store chains, including Casey's General StoresKwik Trip and QuikTrip, have announced plans to add E15 to their fuel offer.

Should the EPA provide the RVP waiver for E15, it could help Republicans repeal a methane-emission regulation that was passed under President Obama, Politico reported. A small group of Corn Belt legislators said they would withhold support for the methane-regulation repeal unless E15 gets an RVP waiver.

If the EPA decides it does not have the authority to provide the waiver, Growth Energy and other biofuel groups are also building support for a legislative fix. This March, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act, which would extend the RVP waiver to E15 year-round.

Pruitt also told NAFB members that the EPA was on track to provide the 2018 renewable volume obligations (RVOs) on time. The EPA is legally obligated to release the RVOs by the end of November.

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