Ethanol group angles to protect priorities with Wheeler vote

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2019

A pro-ethanol group today urged senators not to vote on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler as EPA administrator until he provides “tangible documentation” of his intentions for two of the industry’s top priorities.

The American Coalition for Ethanol said senators shouldn’t support Wheeler, the acting administrator, until they have evidence he supports making higher-ethanol fuel available year-round and he takes steps to ensure that ethanol waivers granted to small refiners don’t result in lower overall ethanol volumes.

“I urge you hold Acting Administrator Wheeler to this high standard because of the harm done to renewable fuels by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt,” wrote the group’s CEO, Brian Jennings, in a letter to senators.

Although Pruitt had earlier promised to uphold ethanol mandates if confirmed, he took actions as administrator counter to the industry’s interests, Jennings said, by holding back on expansion of 15 percent ethanol fuel, called E15, and by granting enough small-refiner waivers to erase 2 billion gallons of ethanol demand.

Expanded availability of E15 depends on regulations the agency has said it will publish soon. That would enable gas stations nationwide to sell E15 this summer for the first time. But Wheeler, asked about the issue at his confirmation hearing, said the partial government shutdown was slowing officials’ work.

The regulations still appear to be on time to allow summer sales, Wheeler said. But he didn’t rule out a delay based on the effects of the shutdown — a caveat that raised objections from the ethanol industry.

“The shutdown is not a credible excuse for a delay in the E15 rulemaking,” Jennings wrote.

More than 100 days have passed since President Trump directed EPA to write regulations allowing for summer sales of E15. Jennings said the administration could move faster, citing the Department of Agriculture’s quick action last year to finalize regulations on low-income nutrition programs that were key to passing the 2018 farm bill.

EPA has said it will also include proposals to revamp the system of renewable fuel credits that refiners buy to show compliance with the renewable fuel standard. Ethanol advocates called on EPA to handle that issue separately to avoid feeding divisions within the fuel industry. Wheeler should be encouraged to decouple the issues to allow faster approval on E15, Jennings said.