Lawmakers seek sales of higher-ethanol gasoline in summer

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 3, 2017

Ethanol advocates in Congress introduced legislation yesterday to allow sales of higher-ethanol gasoline in the summer, one of the industry’s top priorities.

The legislation, called the “Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act,” would waive U.S. EPA restrictions on the sale of E15 fuel — or 15 percent ethanol — between June and September. The limitation has discouraged retailers from selling E15 at all, industry groups say, since it requires changing fuels and labels for part of the year.

“The EPA should be consistent in the way it treats different fuel blends as a matter of fairness and to give consumers more options for fueling their vehicles,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose state leads the country in ethanol production, said in a news release.

At issue is a restriction called the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) limitation, a measure of fuel volatility. EPA restricts fuel in the summer based on concerns about ozone pollution, but the industry group Growth Energy said E15 is less volatile than E10.

Ethanol advocates and governors of major corn-producing states have urged the agency to treat E15 similarly to E10, already commonly sold year-round nationwide.

Lawmakers introduced identical bills in the Senate and House, with Grassley, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Reps. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) among the sponsors.

The lawmakers have introduced similar bills in previous sessions of Congress, but the issue has fresh visibility after reports the Trump administration might consider waiving the requirement in exchange for switching the responsibility for meeting renewable fuel mandates from refiners and importers to blenders.

Reports of a potential executive order seeking that solution were false, the White House has said. But one of the figures behind the discussions is the investor Carl Icahn, an informal adviser to President Trump who has complained about the RFS’s effect on a company in which he owns a majority stake, CVR Energy Inc.

The Renewable Fuels Association has said an RVP waiver is its top priority, and the group’s CEO, Bob Dinneen, said in recent days that he’d be open to such a deal even though he opposes moving the RFS point of obligation. Sources familiar with the situation say the RFA and Icahn privately agreed to such an arrangement (Greenwire, March 1).

Other ethanol groups, however, have said they won’t accept any deal that involves moving the point of obligation.

Congressional efforts to expand ethanol offerings haven’t gone far, stuck in a stalemate with competing bills that would repeal or scale back the RFS. On that side of the issue are lawmakers such as Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who’ve pushed bills in prior sessions of Congress to limit ethanol blending to no more than 9.7 percent.