Year-round E15 access must be permanent

Source: By Paul Anderson, Minneapolis Star Tribune • Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2022

It would fuel economic growth for Minnesota’s ethanol producers and farmers, and offer a lower-pollution, less expensive fuel option.

At a time when our country needs more transportation fuel than ever and gas prices are going through the roof, a permanent solution is needed to ensure Minnesotans have year-round access to E15 gasoline.

A senseless, archaic rule from Washington, D.C., stipulates that, from June 1 through mid-September, gasoline retailers are unable to offer their customers a 15% blend of ethanol in fuel. It’s known as E15 or 88-octane fuel, and it’s actually priced lower than regular gas — from 5 to 10 cents cheaper per gallon, or even more — and it’s also higher in octane.

Former President Donald Trump waived this obsolete regulation. However, an appeals court in the D.C. circuit has since ruled the EPA lacked authority to allow the year-round sale of E15. President Joe Biden has recently suspended this regulation once more, temporarily, which helps us this year but sets the stage for this issue to resurface again next year unless a permanent change is instituted.

Minnesota leads the nation with more than 400 retailers offering this fuel, just one reason our state also has the most to lose unless this situation is rectified. If we don’t resolve this issue and have a long-range, durable solution for E15 access in 2023 and beyond, we will continually struggle to increase any biofuel blending in the state of Minnesota.

We also could see retailers decide that changing labels during the summer driving season is not worth the hassle and altogether stop offering E15, which could increase transportation emissions. This will have negative impacts on ethanol plants, rural communities, Minnesota farmers and clean air for all citizens.

Gov. Tim Walz last November co-signed a letter with several other governors, indicating to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, in part, “we are exploring all of our options to ensure retailers are able to sell E15 to consumers all year long without interruption.” The Biden waiver made further action by governors moot — for now. The EPA has publicly stated it supports the “governor fix” for long-term E15 sales and it even is helping to direct the modeling.

We should continue working to establish long-term certainty on this issue regardless of the leeway that has been provided for 2022. It would spare refiners and terminals from revisiting this issue and the logistical issues that arise if they were forced to cease delivery of 88-octane fuel as the June 1 cutoff date approaches next year.

Sadly, this issue is subject to the winds of politics, and we owe it to Minnesotans to do better. Permanently lifting this outdated, obsolete burden would fuel economic growth for Minnesota’s ethanol producers and farmers, while also increasing availability of a lesser-cost, lower-pollution fuel option for consumers. It uses material produced right here in our state, by Minnesota farmers and Minnesota ethanol plants, and is kept right here at home.

It’s a safe and dependable supply, not subject to the vagaries of war halfway around the world.

Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, is a member of the Minnesota House.