Pruitt discusses E15 RVP waiver, RFS fuel pathway during hearing

By Erin Voegele | January 31, 2018

The Renewable Fuels Standard, a Reid vapor pressure (RVP) waiver for E15, and the pending advanced biofuel pathway for distillers sorghum oil were among the topics discussed during a Jan. 30 Senate hearing featuring testimony from U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt was the sole panelist to testify during the oversight hearing, which was held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, addressed the RVP waiver issue during the event. During a recent trip to Iowa, she said Pruitt noted that the EPA was actively exploring whether it possesses the legal authority to issue a nationwide RVP waiver. Three months ago, she added, Pruitt sent a letter to a group of senators stating that he would look at ways EPA could fix the restriction preventing E15 from being sold during summer months. Ernst asked Pruitt to provide the committee with an update on where the EPA’s efforts stand and asked him if he has clarification over the agency’s authority to issue a RVP waiver for E15.

In response, Pruitt said the issue over the RVP waiver is not really a policy issue. Rather, he said it is truly a determination over whether or not the EPA has the legal authority to issue such a waiver. He said the efforts to make that determination are continuing. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have a conclusion on that soon,” he said, noting the agency is working to get an answer as soon as it can. When asked about a projected timeline for making the determination, Pruitt said he didn’t currently have one, but agreed to provide Ernst with one as a follow-up to the hearing.

Ernst also praised Pruitt for following the rule of the law and the administration’s promise of protecting high-quality American jobs when it finalized 2018 RFS volume requirements in November. She offered Pruitt thanks on behalf of Iowa’s farmers and rural communities, noting actions taken by the EPA have created certainty, kick-started economic growth and generated countless jobs across the country.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, also addressed the RFS during the hearing. He thanked Pruitt for efforts to approve an RFS pathway for the production of advanced biofuels from distillers sorghum oil. “Once that is finalized, the pathway will result in production of up to 20 million additional gallons of advanced biofuels,” Moran said.

The comment period on the propose rule closed Jan. 26. It aims to qualify distillers sorghum oil as a feedstock for advanced biofuels, including biodiesel and heating oil made via a transesterification process, and renewable jet fuel, heating oil, naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas produced through a hydrotreating process.

Moran said he appreciates progress being made on the fuel pathway, but continued to urge Pruitt to act quickly. “We want to see that Kansas sorghum farmers and sorghum ethanol facilities can utilize and benefit from that pathway,” he continued.

Moran asked Pruitt to provide him with a timeline for finalizing the proposed rule. While Pruitt was unable to offer an estimated timeline, he assured Moran that he understands the urgency and assured him the EPA is focused on the rulemaking from a program office perspective.

The American Coalition for Ethanol issued a statement following the hearing, noting it is encouraged by Pruitt’s statements. “ACE members are grateful Administrator Pruitt is committed to completing the review of EPA's legal authority to provide RVP relief for E15 and higher blends and that he reiterated the Agency's interest in how high-octane fuels can meet fuel efficiency standards,” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE.

“RVP relief is not only a commonsense step EPA can take to provide regulatory relief to fuel marketers, it is also the quickest way to take pressure off RIN prices,” Jennings continued. “E15 blending nationwide will increase ethanol blending which will increase the supply of RIN credits and help bring down their price. For those interests seeking lower RIN prices, RVP relief is indeed a ‘win-win’ solution.

“Administrator Pruitt is to be commended for inviting comment on the role high-octane fuels can play in helping meet future vehicle fuel economy and emission standards,” Jennings said. “It is well-documented that blends in the range of E25-40 deliver meaningful efficiency and emission benefits at a low pump price. We continue to work with other stakeholders to make sure high-octane fuel containing ethanol becomes a reality.”

An archived webcast of the hearing can be viewed on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works website