Iowans closer to seeing more 15% ethanol at the pumps, after House passes priority of Kim Reynolds

Source: By Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, February 3, 2022

Iowa House lawmakers have passed a bill to require gas stations to offer gasoline with higher blends of ethanol at the pump — a major step forward for a priority of Gov. Kim Reynolds.

House lawmakers voted 82-10 to pass the measure with most Republicans and Democrats in support. Seven Republicans and three Democrats voted no. The measure now goes to the Senate, which is considering its own version of the legislation.

“I think it’s very important for us here in Iowa to show the support for the renewable fuels industry,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford. “And I think that the House has done that today with a very strong bipartisan vote.”

More:Gov. Kim Reynolds renews effort to require higher ethanol blends at Iowa pumps

Democrats largely supported the bill, touting their support for the state’s biofuels industry.

“I am just so proud that when Iowa’s ethanol industry, when Iowa’s farmers, needed support House Democrats were here for them,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

Under the bill, fuel retailers like gas stations would be required to offer gasoline with 15% ethanol, known as E15, beginning in 2026. That would greatly expand the availability of E15, which is currently available in a fraction of Iowa’s gas stations and truck stops.

The bill also includes a range of tax credits and incentives requires any new or upgraded fuel infrastructure to be compatible with E85, or gasoline with 85% ethanol, and B20, which contains at least 20% biodiesel, starting next year.

The measure’s passage in the House is a shift from last year, when a previous proposal from Reynolds fell victim to fighting between fuel retailers, transportation groups and renewable fuel producers.

Lawmakers said they’ve worked over the intervening year to address many of the concerns industry groups have raised.

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“One of the first things I learned as a legislator is a lot of times we don’t have that perfect bill,” said Rep. Lee Hein, R-Monticello, who led the passage of the bill. “But when everybody is a little unhappy about it it’s probably pretty good of legislation and I think we’ve reached that point today.”

One major shift from last year is that the E15 requirement only applies if the gas station has infrastructure that is compatible with the higher blend of ethanol. Reynolds’ previous proposal would have required many gas stations, truck stops and convenience stores to upgrade their equipment to offer the higher ethanol blend, which retailers said would result in a steep cost.

For gas stations that don’t have compatible equipment — such as tanks that are too old — the bill provides a waiver option. The retailer can either submit an application describing why its equipment can’t support the higher ethanol blend or can hire someone to inspect its facility and certify that it can’t meet the requirement.

House lawmakers passed an amendment to the bill Wednesday expanding the waiver process and saying that the Iowa Department of Agriculture must grant waivers that meet the criteria in the legislation.

Democrat Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, had the initial idea for an amendment to require the Department of Agriculture to grant waivers to stores that met the criteria in the bill, rather than giving the department discretion to deny waiver applications. She said Republicans’ inclusion of her amendment got her to a yes on the bill.

“It does both expand the ethanol market here in Iowa but it also does protect small town, smaller fuel retailers,” she said. “So I’m an enthusiastic yes.”

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Hein said the bill allows retailers, especially smaller, rural stores, to get a waiver if they don’t have the resources to upgrade their equipment.

“Some of the discussion was that we were going to put all these small mom and pop stores out of business,” he said. “That was never the intent and I think we have a good waiver process that will allow them to make the choice.”

In the Senate, a three-member subcommittee unanimously voted Wednesday morning to advance its own version of the legislation, although the Senate bill moved forward without the language added to the House proposal.

“We’re Iowans and we’re going to support what Iowans do. And that’s grow corn and soybeans and reprocess those products,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan. “And we’re going to give a higher quality, lower cost fuel to our consumers here in Iowa.”

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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