Some lawmakers keen on high-octane fuel standard

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2018

Lawmakers on Friday weighed an unlikely marriage between Big Corn and Big Auto.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment debated whether a new federal high-octane fuel standard would benefit a wide range of interests, including ethanol groups and automakers.

High-octane fuel is generally supported by corn growers and refiners, as ethanol is currently the cheapest source of octane available. It also generally enjoys support among automakers because it improves engine efficiency.

Implementing a new high-octane fuel standard could ultimately improve coordination between two major federal regulations: the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.

Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said as much in his opening statement: “One potential flaw with the RFS and CAFE standards is that the two programs have never been fully coordinated with one another. … Today we seek to get the high-octane policy discussion underway.”

Full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) added: “On first look, it seems like an elegant way to make both the RFS and CAFE standards work better together. Of course, whenever something sounds too good to be true, it very well may be.”

One concern is that consumers could pay more at the pump, said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas). Another concern is that octane could be sourced from oil rather than ethanol, contributing to an uptick in greenhouse gas emissions, said Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.).

Subcommittee ranking member Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) sought to conduct a litmus test of the witnesses’ support for a new high-octane fuel standard.

The five witnesses represented a spectrum of interested parties, including corn growers, ethanol backers, automakers and convenience store owners.

There was broad support among the witnesses for implementing a performance standard requiring a minimum research octane number (RON) of 95, although they each noted challenges specific to their industries.

Dan Nicholson, vice president of global propulsion systems with General Motors Co., called the proposal “the most cost-effective way to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases.” But he added that automakers would need at least four years and billions of dollars to develop the appropriate engines.

Automakers are also facing regulatory uncertainty after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a revision of EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions rules for vehicles, which are aligned with the CAFE standards promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (Greenwire, April 3).

Chet Thompson, president and CEO of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said implementing a 95-RON performance standard “could only be done in lieu of — not in addition to — the RFS.”

Paul Jeschke, a member of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said the proposal would be more good news for growers after President Trump announced yesterday that the administration will allow year-round sales of higher-ethanol fuel (E&E News PM, April 12).