More E15 next summer could be hard, advocates say

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 29, 2018

EPA will be hard-pressed to approve higher-ethanol fuel for sale next summer, despite the Trump administration’s promise to do so, ethanol advocates say.

The calendar may work against the agency, industry sources told reporters on a conference call yesterday. For E15 fuel to become available next summer, EPA would have to review public comments, propose regulations in February and make them final — after more public comment — in May.

That’s “a very ambitious schedule,” said Matt Morrison, a lawyer for the Renewable Fuels Association, representing ethanol marketers.

The RFA pulled together ethanol boosters in response to a public relations campaign by petroleum companies and retailers opposed to expanded sales of E15, which is 15 percent ethanol. Most fuel sold in the U.S. now is 10 percent ethanol; E15 isn’t generally available in summer due to ozone regulations.

Among other complaints, opponents of E15 point to increased risk of damage to small engines and to engines on older cars. Models made before 2001 weren’t designed for higher-ethanol fuel, although ethanol groups say more than 90 percent of 2019 model cars are compatible with E15.

Uncertainty about E15 availability next summer may be causing retailers to hold off on installing equipment compatible with the fuel, RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said.

That echoes remarks by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who said earlier this week that EPA needs to move faster on the E15 proposal or risks failing to deliver on time a campaign promise by President Trump to support corn farmers.

“We certainly think Sen. Grassley is right to be concerned about that,” said Cooper. “They’d like a clear signal.”

One scenario to speed the process, Morrison said, would be to break the proposal into two pieces, each dealing with related provisions of the Clean Air Act. The agency could take public comment on one piece before February, he said, although EPA hasn’t indicated a plan to take that route.

Petroleum industry groups say EPA doesn’t have legal authority to expand E15 availability and that they’ll consider suing the agency if it moves in that direction. That could further delay implementation.

The groups point to opposition in Congress too, where a handful of lawmakers earlier this month outlined their objections in a letter to Trump.

On the other side of the fight, ethanol advocates met in South Dakota yesterday for a roundtable discussion with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has pushed for expanded E15 sales.

“EPA bureaucrats already appear to be slow-walking the rule, which raises doubts it can be done by June 1. While ACE members are grateful Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler clarified EPA has the legal authority to move forward on E15 year-round without Congress, waiting for a proposed rule until February falls short of our expectations,” Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said in a statement after the meeting.