Ethanol boosters regroup after spending bill setback

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Pro-ethanol senators stumbled in their effort to further promote the fuel in spending legislation Congress is about to pass for the rest of fiscal 2017.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he and some colleagues wanted a waiver of seasonal restrictions on the sale of E15, or 15 percent ethanol in gasoline, mainly derived from corn.

Most fuel sold at U.S. service stations has 10 percent ethanol, which isn’t subject to the same restrictions, based on a volatility measure called Reid vapor pressure.

Producers say seasonal restrictions on E15 are the biggest obstacle to introducing the blend in more markets. And allies in Congress lament they couldn’t undo them.

“It didn’t make it in this time,” Thune told reporters yesterday.

“There are going to be other legislative vehicles, and we’re looking for a path forward to try to get the RVP issue addressed,” Thune said.

The deliberations, a critical home-state issue to several Republicans, come as Senate leaders struggle to find votes to pass a measure to scrap Obama administration regulations on federal land methane releases. Ethanol boosters are pushing to advance their case in exchange for their support (see related story).

RVP restrictions apply between June 1 and Sept. 15, when U.S. EPA says fuel is more likely to contribute to smog.

About 700 gas stations across 29 states sell E15.

Advocates say the seasonal restrictions scare off retailers that don’t want the hassle of switching fuel offerings. In addition, some states set fuel standards that effectively rule out E15.

Still, a slowly increasing number of retailers are offering the higher blend. Most recently, Kwik Trip Inc., based in La Crosse, Wis., said it would start selling E15 in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with a goal of eventually selling it at most of its 500 locations.

“Several major retailers already offer E15 in select locations, but the marketplace is being hamstrung by EPA’s nonsensical disparate regulation of RVP limits,” Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said through a spokeswoman.

“Most gas stations are unwilling to dedicate storage tanks and dispensing equipment to a fuel that cannot be sold during the peak summer driving season simply because of an outdated, irrational EPA regulation.”

Critics of ethanol mandates, including gas and oil companies and lawmakers from a handful of states, say higher blends can harm small engines on boats and certain equipment.

They’ve pushed legislation to repeal or scale back the federal renewable fuel standard, although those bills so far haven’t advanced.

Some conservation and environmental groups are skeptical, as well, saying ethanol mandates spur farmers to plant corn on marginal or forested land.

EPA approves E15 for use in cars made after 2001, so the number of vehicles that can use it continues to increase.

In Congress, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined Thune in pushing for an expanded RVP waiver in the spending bill, a spokeswoman for Grassley said. He and other lawmakers introduced legislation earlier this year to ease the seasonal restrictions (E&E Daily, March 3).

Thune said: “In my view, it’s something that provides regulatory relief, which is something we ought to be about. It’s a no-cost way of providing help to farmers and to consumers, giving them more choices. I hope that we’ll find the will here and the consensus to do that.”

At the agency level, the American Coalition for Ethanol last week urged backers to write EPA, asking the agency to relax the RVP restrictions through its recently created Regulatory Reform Task Force.