Summer brings ethanol quirk to Iowa gas stations

Source: By Charlie Good, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2016

Today, I do something that defies common sense.

Today, due to a combination of a quirk in federal regulation and the heavy-handed tactics of the oil industry, I walk out to my fuel pumps and change a sticker so that E15 can no longer be sold to 80 percent of the vehicles on the road.

You’re probably most familiar with 87-octane unleaded E10, or fuel blended with 10 percent ethanol. E15 has just 5 percentage points more ethanol and is relatively new to Iowa. More important, it’s the lowest-cost, cleanest-burning fuel for the vast majority of vehicles on the road, approved for use in all 2001 and newer vehicles. I sell a ton of it at my store, often at a 10-cent discount to regular unleaded E10, and I know my customers like the savings and performance it provides.

However, no matter how much my customers want to buy the fuel and how safe and economical it is for vehicles, every summer when the calendar turns to June, I’m no longer allowed to sell E15 to 2001 and newer vehicles. It can be sold to flex-fuel vehicles only.

The fuel hasn’t changed since yesterday. The pump hasn’t changed since yesterday. The cars haven’t changed since yesterday. But the sticker changes, and poof! There goes almost 95 percent of the customers that I can market the fuel to for a three-and-a-half-month period each year.

At this point, you may be confused on why Iowa’s motorists aren’t allowed to use a cleaner-burning, more locally produced fuel that saves them money in the summer, when it was perfectly fine to do so yesterday.

It’s a little complicated, but to put it simply, federal fuel volatility regulation allows for the blending of fuel with 10 percent ethanol in the summer, but E15 isn’t treated the same despite the fact E15 is less volatile than E10.

But there is a quick and easy solution: Oil companies could simply ship lower volatility fuel to Iowa that is suitable for blending E15 in the summer. It’s already in nearby fuel markets like Kansas City and Chicago, but in an attempt to protect their near-monopoly, they will not ship it to Iowa, where many of the nation’s E15 stations exist.

So, the American taxpayer not only supports oil companies with billions in subsidies each year, petroleum companies also take advantage of federal regulations to squeeze out any competition in the marketplace and ensure that the American consumer pays more money for more oil.

While Iowa’s entire congressional delegation has sponsored legislation to fix this quirk, they need to hear from Iowans that the heavy-handed tactics of oil companies will not stand. As you can see, the current practice simply defies common sense, and it’s time for this complete and utter foolishness to stop.

Charlie Good is a mechanic and owner of Good and Quick in Nevada, Ia.