Wis. congressman accuses gas stations of mislabeling E15 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Wisconsin congressman is accusing gas stations of mislabeling gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, or E15, in order to get around U.S. EPA regulations on gasoline volatility.

In a letter yesterday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said that some gas retailers have labeled E15 as fuel for flex-fuel vehicles to avoid restrictions on selling E15. He included a photo of one gas station pump that appears to have mislabeled the fuel, as well as several questions for McCarthy about the requirements for E15 use.

“Some retailers have relabeled their E15 pumps as flex-fuel during the summer months to avoid abiding by EPA’s interpretation” of Clean Air Act requirements for gasoline volatility, the congressman wrote.

Ethanol producers are pushing back against the letter, arguing that the congressman is wrong about the rules for labeling requirements.

EPA approved the 15 percent blend for use in cars with model years 2001 and newer, though the fuel so far has been slow to enter the market. According to ethanol industry group Growth Energy, E15 is currently sold at more than 120 gas stations in 18 states.

Most gas stations in the country still sell E10, or gasoline containing 10 percent ethanol.

Sensenbrenner for years has criticized EPA for approving E15 and earlier this year reintroduced legislation that would reverse the agency’s decision to approve the fuel.

At issue in Sensenbrenner’s letter yesterday are gasoline volatility requirements that are applicable during the summer ozone season in areas that meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. E10 has a congressional waiver from those requirements, but when EPA approved E15, it did not extend the waiver to the new fuel.

The effect is that gas stations subject to the volatility requirements are unable to sell E15 during the summer.

Ethanol trade groups have said that the lack of a waiver is one of the major impediments slowing the spread of E15 in the fuel market. Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have introduced legislation to provide the waiver for E15, but so far, the bills have not gone anywhere.

According to Sensenbrenner’s letter, retailers have allegedly labeled E15 as flex fuel — or “not gasoline” — to avoid having to stop selling it during the summer months. Flex fuel is meant for vehicles that are able to handle blends of ethanol of up to around 85 percent.

Sensenbrenner demanded that McCarthy answer 10 questions, including how the agency is enforcing the gasoline volatility requirements, by June 1.

In April, the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers raised similar concerns to those voiced in Sensenbrenner’s letter to EPA. The letter, which was obtained by E&E Daily, requests that EPA clarify the regulations for selling E15 and prohibit the sale of E15 as a flex fuel.

“AFPM and API believe that clarity as to the illegality of this practice of relabeling E15 as flex fuel is needed immediately,” the groups wrote, “in light of the impending summertime gasoline season.”

In an emailed statement last night, ethanol trade group Renewable Fuels Association characterized the letters as part of a broader effort by the oil industry to stop the expansion of more ethanol in the fuel market.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the ethanol group, said that there is no prescribed labeling requirement for marketing gasoline containing more than 10 percent ethanol for a flex-fuel vehicle.

“The examples provided in the letter clearly state that the E15 that is being sold is for ‘[u]se only in flex-fuel vehicles,'” Dinneen said. “Consumers understand the distinction between traditional and flexible-fuel vehicles. The concern about misfueling among these two classes is negligible.”