Ethanol industry confident in E15 timeline despite shutdown

By Erin Voegele | January 07, 2019

The partial government shutdown has now entered its third week. Although much of the U.S. EPA’s staff has been furloughed, many in the ethanol industry are hopeful the agency will be able to complete its E15 rulemaking by the June 1 deadline.  

The government shutdown began Dec. 22 after federal lawmakers and the Trump administration failed to reach an agreement over funding for a border wall. As of Jan. 17, the shutdown is in its 17th day and is the third longest in U.S. history. To date, the longest government shutdown spanned 21 days during the winter of 1995-1996. There is currently no indication of when the current shutdown may end.

With most of EPA’s staff currently furloughed, there is a concern that the agency’s work to complete its rule to allow year-round sales of E15 could be delayed.

In October, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, confirmed news that Trump had directed the EPA to promulgate a regulation making E15 available year-round. Later that month, the Trump administration released a summary of its Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions. That document shows the EPA was expected to release a proposed rule to allow year-round E15 sales in February, with the final rule scheduled to be issued in May.  

Currently, Reid vapor pressure (RVP) regulations prevent the sale of E15 in most U.S. markets during the summer driving season, from June 1 through Sept. 15. While there is some concern a prolonged government shutdown could impact EPA’s ability to finalize the  E15 rule before June 1, many in the ethanol industry have expressed optimism the RVP issue will be resolved before the summer driving season begins.

“From the outset, EPA gave itself very little wiggle room to complete the year-round E15 rulemaking before summer, so the shutdown is making a tight timeline even tighter,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “However, we remain confident that EPA can and will deliver on President Trump’s commitment to resolve the barrier to year-round E15 sales before June 1.”

Growth Energy is also hopeful the EPA can meet its June 1 deadline. “With the government shutdown and unresolved trade discussions, America’s farmers and biofuel producers continue to struggle with the mounting pressures and uncertainties,” said Leigh Claffey, spokeswoman for Growth Energy. “While the shutdown’s impact on the E15 year-round rulemaking remains unclear, we look forward to picking up where we left off when EPA continues its work to fulfill the president’s promise for year-round E15 by June 1, 2019.”

Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said he expects the EPA to make good on its commitment to resolve the E15 issue before the 2019 summer driving season. “EPA has repeatedly said it would have the rule done in time for retailers to sell E15 during the 2019 summer driving season and we expect the Agency to make good on their commitment,” he said, noting that if the administration fails to meet its commitment to E15 “the political implications for 2020 could be severe.”

Ethanol Producer Magazine has made several attempts to contact the EPA. To date, those messages have not been returned. On Jan. 3, a representative of Grassley’s office told EPM that the senator had not received an update on the status of EPA’s E15 rulemaking.