Op-Ed: Consumers and farmers burned by EPA regulations on renewable fuel

Source: By Bob Dinneen, The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, May 2, 2017

As the days grow longer and the mercury rises, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should take action to eliminate an irrational summertime regulation that hurts both farmers and millions of Americans who drive a car.

This double whammy is the result of EPA fuel rules that effectively prohibit the sale of gasoline blends containing 15 percent ethanol (E15) from June 1 to Sept. 15 every year even though E15 is cheaper, cleaner and carries a higher-octane rating than other fuels.

The summer blackout artificially constrains demand for renewable fuels and the farm products that are used to produce them. As a result, farmers are cutoff from a value-added market that could help avoid a crisis across rural America and drivers face fewer options and higher prices at the pump.

As the Trump administration and Congress look for ways to reduce regulatory burdens, the E15 restriction stands out as an obvious target for elimination.

Rescinding this regulatory misfire would significantly expand access to ethanol and build on the progress of one of the most successful energy policies in U.S. history, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

By providing the foundation for the domestic biofuel industry with its enactment in 2005, the RFS has generated jobs, reduced oil imports, lowered gasoline prices, reduced air pollution and revived rural economies.

Of course, Big Oil does not like any alternative that cuts into its market share, which is the primary reason for the summer restrictions on E15.

Because gasoline vaporizes more quickly in hot weather, the EPA requires special gasoline blends in the summer to reduce vapors that create ozone gas. The EPA standards are based on a measurement of a fuel blend’s volatility, which reflects its ability to vaporize.

Recognizing the benefits of ethanol, the EPA granted a waiver for blends with 10 percent ethanol that register slightly above the agency’s volatility standard. Big Oil has resisted efforts to grant the same waiver to blends with 15 percent ethanol even though volatility and emissions decrease as the amount of ethanol in the blended fuel increases from 10 percent.

Allowing the sale of E15 during the summer would reduce harmful emissions as well as prices at the pump. It would also increase demand for the value-added market farmers need to avoid higher farm program spending. It’s a win-win.

The EPA should take other steps to expand demand for renewable fuels and provide consumers greater choice at the pump. The agency should eliminate antiquated rules that discourage the sale of other ethanol blends, including 30 percent ethanol blends. It should reconsider several outdated, oil-industry funded studies that understate the environmental benefits of renewable fuels.

It is also critical that the EPA, the White House and Congress follow the time-tested adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The RFS has worked. It is enforceable. It has stimulated investment in new technologies and markets. There is no need to change the point of obligation that places responsibility for meeting fuel standards on refiners and importers.

Renewable fuels like ethanol have proven their value for consumers, for the environment and for American energy independence.

The arrival of a new administration and a new Congress in Washington provides an opportunity to build on this record of success by eliminating needless regulations and focusing on new ways to expand the use of renewable fuels.

Dinneen is president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the U.S. ethanol industry and its supporters.