EPA racing to open up E15 sales

Source: By John Osborne, Houston Chronicle • Posted: Monday, March 4, 2019

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency is moving quickly to raise the maximum allowable ethanol concentration in gasoline in time for summer, says Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday, Wheeler said, “We are working hard to get it done before summer driving season; please ignore reports we’re going to miss the summer driving season,” according to the website AgriPulse.

Wheeler, who was named acting administrator following the resignation of Scott Pruitt, was confirmed to the post by Senate Thursday on a mostly party-line 52-47 vote.

The Trump administration has proposed raising the maximum allowable concentration of ethanol from 10 percent to 15 percent, thereby allowing year round sale of the fuel known as E15, which currently cannot be sold in summer under federal air pollution laws. Fuels with higher concentrations of ethanol, particularly in the summer, produce more ozone, which is linked to respiratory problems.

Under the more than decade old Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries are required to blend ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply, as a means to reduce dependence on foreign oil. That has drawn fierce opposition from many refineries claiming the cost of compliance is too steep.

Following an administration decision to grant increasing numbers of refineries exemptions from the mandate, which reduces the demand for ethanol, President Donald Trump is attempting to strike a grand bargain in which he reduces financial stress on refineries while not hurting Midwestern corn farmers whose crops feed ethanol production.

Wheeler’s statement Wednesday followed a comment earlier in the day by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that EPA would not be able to complete the rule-making procedures in time for the summer driving season.

That drew condemnation from the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the ethanol industry. The group’s president, Geoff Cooper, called a possible delay a “gut punch.”

“The American ethanol industry and farmers across the country have suffered greatly as a result of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s efforts to destroy demand for renewable fuels and undermine the effectiveness of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” he said in a statement. “That is why President Trump’s promise last October to allow year-round sales of E15 by this summer was met with such enthusiasm and appreciation.”

Over the past 12 months, the four-week average of U.S. ethanol production has slipped 4 percent to roughly 1 million barrels per day, according to the Department of Energy.

In opening up the sale of E-15, EPA is expected to face legal challenges from oil interests and environmentalists claiming the agency has exceeded its authority under the Renewable Fuel Standard, which Congress passed and former president George W. Bush signed in 2005.

“What likely seems to be slowing things down might be the hoops the agency may have to jump through to attempt to have its E15 policy be legal,” said Frank Maisano, a consultant with the law firm Bracewell, which represents refineries.