In response to storm, EPA relaxes blend rules

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2017

U.S. EPA said Monday it would relax rules around the sale of gasoline blended with ethanol in Louisiana in response to Tropical Storm Harvey.

However, the ethanol industry said the administration’s move doesn’t translate to more of the corn-based fuel coming on the market.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced that the agency would allow gasoline with a higher Reid vapor pressure level to be sold in Louisiana through Sept. 15, easing seasonal restrictions that keep more volatile blends out of the fuel supply in the summer.

The decision applies in 16 parishes where seasonal restrictions normally apply, EPA said, and came in response to a request from Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D).

In a letter to Edwards, Pruitt cited an “extreme and unusual fuel circumstance” that would prevent adequate supply of gasoline in the affected parishes. He said the directive applies to the smallest geographic area needed to address the supply disruption.

Reid vapor pressure, or RVP, measures a fuel’s volatility in pounds per square inch. The agency limits higher-ethanol fuels in the summer based on that measure of volatility.

Citing his authority under the Clean Air Act to waive requirements under certain situations, Pruitt said the agency would allow gasoline with an RVP of up to 9 pounds per square inch, up from 7.8 psi.

The Renewable Fuels Association, representing the ethanol industry, said EPA’s announcement may not boost ethanol and could, in fact, have the opposite effect.

Pruitt’s announcement also says the agency is reducing the amount of ethanol required for fuel to qualify under EPA’s “special provisions for alcohol blends.”

The Clean Air Act calls for an ethanol level between 9 percent and 10 percent to qualify; Pruitt said the directive would temporarily reduce that to less than 9 percent ethanol by volume.

The RFA yesterday asked EPA to allow expanded sales of fuel that’s 15 percent ethanol, or E15, in response to supply disruptions caused by the storm. But the agency seems to be moving in the opposite direction, the organization said.

“The waivers issued don’t do anything to allow expanded E15 blending. But, yes, they allow gasoline to have higher RVP than usual,” said RFA Executive Vice President Geoff Cooper in a statement.

“It seems odd,” he said, that EPA would seem to allow gasoline with no ethanol to qualify but not allow fuel with 15 percent ethanol to qualify for the waiver temporarily.

Ethanol is priced about 20 cents less than gasoline blendstocks, and supplies are ample across the country, the RFA said in a news release.

Expanded ethanol availability would provide a “badly needed source of additional supply and helping to offset gasoline shortfalls resulting from refinery and terminal outages,” the organization said.