As EPA issues hurricane fuel waiver, RFA pushes more ethanol

Source: By Inside EPA • Posted: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

EPA has issued waivers from federal fuel volatility limits for Louisiana and Mississippi to alleviate fuel supply concerns in the wake of Hurricane Ida, as the storm spurs advocacy from the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) which is pushing for regulatory waivers to allow increased ethanol sales to help meet any shortfall in fuel.

EPA announced Aug. 31 an emergency waiver of the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) requirements in Louisiana and Mississippi to help improve the fuel supply beginning August 30 and ending September 16.

The agency frequently provides such waivers after hurricanes and other such events in order to bypass tougher RVP limits that apply in much of the country during summer months — from June 1 until Sept. 15 — to reduce air pollution. Meeting the RVP limits is made more difficult when refinery operations are reduced or shut down, complicating the production of refined fuel.

“As required by law, EPA and [the Department of Energy, or DOE] evaluated the situation and determined that granting a short-term waiver was consistent with the public interest. EPA and DOE are continuing to actively monitor the fuel supply situation, and will act expeditiously if extreme and unusual supply circumstances exist in other areas,” EPA says.

“To mitigate any impacts on air quality, the Clean Air Act provides strict criteria for when fuel waivers may be granted, and requires that waivers be limited as much as possible in terms of their geographic scope and duration,” the agency adds.

But the emergency waiver comes as RFA is presenting increased ethanol sales as one way to make up for shortfalls in fuel resulting from the temporary closure of Gulf Coast oil facilities.

“We ask that EPA take steps to immediately allow fuel terminal operators, blenders, and marketers to increase their use of fuel ethanol to help fill the void in gasoline supplies created by refinery shutdowns,” RFA says in an Aug. 30 letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

To achieve this, EPA would have to temporarily waive several regulatory requirements relating to ethanol supply and sales, RFA says, such as the national “survey” requirements intended to verify properties of fuel for sale, such as volatility, ethanol content and sulfur content.

The agency should further “immediately adopt the changes it recently proposed to Underground Storage Tank (UST) regulations” Jan. 19, ahead of the transition to the incoming administration of President Joe Biden. The rule would allow greater use of E15 fuel in storage equipment designed for E10, and tone-down pump warning labels against misfuelling with E15 for engines not able to tolerate the fuel.

State air regulators and others objected to the weakening of UST rules and the more-liberal ethanol fuel pump labeling program outlined in the proposal, and the Biden EPA so far has not prioritized finalizing that proposal.

Taking such steps would allow for increased sales of 15 percent ethanol fuel (E15) fuel, RFA says, a top priority for the group after a federal appellate court July 2 dealt biofuels producers a blow when it scrapped the Trump-era approval of E15 for sale during the summer driving season.

Once the court decides on biofuels producers’ petition for rehearing in the suit, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, et al., v. EPA, it can then issue a mandate to halt E15 sales, although whether this will happen before the end of the season on Sept. 15 is unclear.

“These actions would allow many retailers who do not sell E15 today to immediately begin offering the fuel without being unduly delayed. EPA should also approve earlier requests to exercise enforcement discretion — if needed — to allow existing E15 retailers in conventional gasoline areas to continue selling the fuel through the remainder of the summer ozone control season,” RFA says.

Further, the hurricane “underscores a larger need for greater diversity, flexibility, and climate resiliency in our transportation fuels sector,” RFA adds.