WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration is making a formal move to enable E15’s year-round sales.
President Trump announced he would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue rulemaking that would waive Reid vapor pressure (RVP) restrictions on E15 from June 1 to Sept. 15 in areas that typically have summertime regulations to prevent smog. He was set to announce it at a campaign rally on Oct. 9 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
"We’re taking care of our refineries and our refiners ... but we want to get more fuel into the system," he said in remarks on the South Lawn of the White House before heading to Iowa.
Republican lawmakers from corn-growing states who had attended an Oct. 9 White House meeting lauded the decision. "Just left the White House after getting the good news that President Trump has directed the EPA to promulgate a regulation making E15 available 12 months out of the [year]," tweeted Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.
The president has repeatedly expressed his support for year-round E15 sales but until now has not made a formal proposal or directed the EPA to move on it. Recent reports suggested the administration was finally set to move, ahead of the November midterm elections.
To help introduce E15 to consumers, Growth Energy, Washington, D.C., has launched the website Unleaded 88, named after the branding that many retailers are adopting for E15. The website emphasizes E15’s higher octane content compared to E10, provides information on the types of vehicles that can use it and which fueling locations sell it.
Currently, more than 1,400 out of the approximately 122,000 fueling locations in the United States sell E15. In the past two years, many large chains began adding E15, including Rutter’s, Casey’s General Stores, QuikTrip and Kwik Trip.
“We thank President Trump for delivering on his promise to rural America by lifting the summer restriction on E15 sales,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “He answered the call from American farmers by removing the single most important barrier to growth in higher biofuel blends. This announcement is great news for farmers, biofuel workers, retailers and consumers everywhere who want to enjoy cleaner, more affordable options at the fuel pump. This is a critical step toward giving American motorists higher-octane options at a lower cost all year long."
“Securing fair market access for E15 and other higher blends has been our top regulatory priority for several years, said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Washington, D.C., "and we are pleased that the first official step in this process is being taken. When markets are open and competitive, American consumers win."
RIN Plans and Pushback
Meanwhile, Trump was also reportedly set to announce the administration would reform the market for Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the credits that obligated parties under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) use to prove compliance to annual biofuel blending quotas. In particular, the EPA may cap the number of RINs that can be held by traders, which could force them out of the market and provide downward pressure on RIN prices.
One issue not part of the recent news was the EPA’s approach in approving small refinery blending exemptions. Ethanol advocates have attacked the agency’s recent approval of several of these exemptions, which waive a refiner’s blending obligations under the RFS. Opponents argue that the EPA’s moves have destroyed demand for ethanol. To address these concerns, the EPA updated the RFS website in September to provide greater transparency on the waivers and the RINs market.
Despite Trump’s formal proposal and support, the process for waiving E15’s summertime restrictions through EPA rulemaking would likely take several months, and it is open to legal challenges from opponents.
After reports that the Trump administration was planning to move on an E15 summertime waiver, American Petroleum Institute (API) Downstream Group Director Frank Macchiarola described the potential move as “a flawed, anti-consumer policy,” warning about the potential damage the ethanol blend could cause to vehicle engines not designed to use it. He also pointed to past statements from the EPA under previous administrations that only Congress—not the agency—had the authority to provide an RVP waiver to E15.
Chet Thompson, CEO of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), criticized the move and hinted at a lawsuit, telling the Associated Press it would likely come after the rule-making process. “The president’s proposal to waive the rules for E15 is unlawful and could actually make the problems of the Renewable Fuel Standard worse," Thompson said. "The president has promised to broker a deal to reform the RFS that works for all stakeholders. This isn’t it. We are disappointed to see that despite good-faith efforts by refiners to find potential solutions, the administration has unilaterally embraced a one-sided approach that only serves the ethanol community, which has shown little interest in finding common ground."
Industry groups also have legislative allies. On Oct. 4, a group of 20 senators from mostly oil and natural-gas producing states sent a letter to Trump describing the decision to grant an E15 waiver as "a one-sided approach." It noted the EPA's earlier stance that it did not have the legal authority to grant a waiver and warned about a lack of sufficient safeguards to protect consumers from misfueling with the ethanol blend, which the EPA approved for use in model-year 2001 and newer vehicles.