Lawmakers Mount Bicameral Effort to End Waiver on Ethanol Blends

February 10, 2023 by Dan McCue
Lawmakers Mount Bicameral Effort to End Waiver on Ethanol Blends
A gas station. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers representing both chambers of Congress and both sides of the political aisle are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to do away with fuel volatility waivers for gasoline-ethanol blends sold in Midwestern states.

In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Thursday, 31 senators and House members stressed that time is of the essence as “the 2023 summer driving season is quickly approaching and action is necessary to provide certainty to the marketplace.”

The letter is the latest step in a longstanding effort by state and federal lawmakers as well as many in the agricultural community to have the EPA permanently remove the standing 1-psi volatility waiver to allow states to sell gasoline containing 15% ethanol year-round without restriction.

As previously reported by The Well News, E15 is typically banned from June to September under the Clean Air Act because it evaporates more quickly than other fuels, raising air pollution concerns.

To reduce summer evaporative emissions, the EPA sets seasonal limits for gasoline’s RVP, a measure of its evaporation potential. 

This is why, in case you’ve ever wondered, most of the country uses different gasoline in the summer than the rest of the year.

The EPA requires summer gasoline to have an RVP less than 9 pounds per square inch. 

Regular summer gasoline without ethanol has an RVP of 9, but summer E10 and E15 both have RVPs around 10. 

Last April, Iowa’s Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds led seven of her Midwestern counterparts in a letter to the EPA administrator, requesting a permanent RVP waiver that will allow each state to continue selling E15 year-round without restriction. 

In addition to Iowa, the states include Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

In June, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, joined the petition, bringing the total number of states to nine.

With Thursday’s letter, the bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers threw their support behind the governors.

“Relying on an annual emergency waiver is not a permanent solution for fuel retailers, consumers or the environment,” they wrote, adding, “Homegrown, American-produced ethanol strengthens our national security and ensures lower vehicle emissions to achieve the administration’s climate goals.”

They go on to say that under the Clean Air Act, Regan was obligated to act on the governors’ request by July 2022, but failed to do so.

In fact, they said, a proposed rule approving the governors’ request didn’t appear on the Office of Management and Budget docket until Dec. 7, leaving fuel retailers, blenders and biofuel producers to contend with ongoing regulatory uncertainty.

Since then, the attorneys general from the aforementioned states have all sent follow-up letters to the EPA and OMB, “urging them to move quickly with this rulemaking to prevent irreparable harm,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Higher blends of ethanol like E15 are a common-sense solution to lower the cost for consumers at the gas pump and to lower vehicle emissions,” the senators and representatives continued. “As we gear up for the summer 2023 travel season, we have the production and distribution infrastructure to meet consumer demand for this lower cost and environmentally friendly fuel option. 

“By working swiftly to finalize the governors’ requests, you will bring much needed certainty to our corn growers, fuel retailers and consumers to enjoy the clean-burning, lower cost benefits of year-round E15 through the 2023 summer driving season,” they said.

Among those applauding the lawmakers’ move on Thursday was the Renewable Fuels Association.

“We thank this group of proactive biofuel supporters for seeking swift action on a petition that has been delayed for far too long,” said RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper, in a written statement. “With the summer driving season rapidly approaching, the unnecessary and illegal delay of the governors’ petition threatens the availability of lower-cost, lower-carbon E15. 

“Consumers are demanding more affordable, lower-carbon options at the pump, and failure to immediately approve this petition will deny them the opportunity for meaningful savings at the time when they need it most,” Cooper added.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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