OPINION: OK, so NOW can I sell E15 all year?

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president, American Coalition for Ethanol | June 05, 2019

Last October, after President Donald Trump told attendees at an Iowa rally that he was ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) rules that restricted the sale of E15 fuel (15 percent ethanol, 85 percent gasoline) during summer months, many fuel marketers assumed the change was a “done deal.” It wasn’t. But following the announcement, EPA went to work updating the rule in question, submitted a proposed rule for comment this March, and after reviewing the thousands of comments they received, EPA issued a final rule last Friday (May 31).

The decades-old regulation prevented E15 from being sold under the same RVP rules as E10—the 10 percent ethanol blend used by most vehicles on the road today. The rule in question allowed E10 to have up to 1-pound higher RVP than straight gasoline during the summer months, when RVP is an issue. The waiver was granted because although higher RVP increases fuel volatility, ethanol reduces emissions simply by replacing 10 percent of the fuel, and the oxygen in ethanol further helps the remaining gasoline burn more completely.

Although E15 replaces more gasoline, adds more oxygen, and its RVP is actually slightly lower than E10, EPA said the 1-pound waiver didn’t apply to E15 and forced retailers to offer a different grade in E15’s place or sell E15 as a “flex fuel” in the summer. The annual changes confused drivers, E15 sales dropped, and some E15 users wouldn’t go back to the fuel when it magically became gasoline again mid-September. With the 1-pound RVP waiver now extended to include E15, those issues should be in the past. Year-round E15 is a now a “done deal.”

But hey—that’s just what the law says. Oil companies, petroleum associations and other critics who have opposed E15 aren’t going to take participation medals and walk away. They’ll challenge the rule in court, and they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on misinformation campaigns designed to create fear of E15 in retailers and consumers alike. They’re not gonna let those investments go to waste, and fear mongers gotta monger, don’t they?

Much of the fearmongering will continue to focus on equipment compatibility and the specter of increased costs if new equipment is needed. The good thing about specters is that they’re ghosts, and ghosts aren’t real. Most existing station equipment is compatible with E15 (or even higher ethanol blends), and even where parts of the system aren’t compatible, the cost to update them will be closer to $4,000 than the $400,000 B.S. price tag ethanol detractors used to convince regulators, elected officials, and station owners that stations couldn’t afford to sell E15.

EPA does require retailers to prove E15 compatibility to offer the fuel, and contrary to what marketers are frequently (inaccurately) told, information is readily available to identify and verify whether a station’s pumps, tanks and other equipment are E15-ready. Local pump and equipment companies can check out a retailer’s equipment and verify whether it is compatible with E15, and retailers must prove compatibility before adding E15. If you want to do some preliminary investigation yourself, and know what kind of equipment you’ve got, this study by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reviewed fuel systems from tank to nozzle, and includes appendices listing ethanol compatibility levels of thousands of component parts used in U.S. fuel stations.

You may also hear EPA has concerns about “RINless” E85, purchased directly from ethanol producers, being used to make E15 with blender pumps. That’s not misinformation, but EPA’s concern is misplaced. We are working to put them at ease, and EPA says their view hasn’t changed, so at this point, RINless ethanol producers need to give assurances the E15 blended with their E85 will meet rules of compliance.

But don’t take our word for any of this. Please. Check it all out yourself. Ask other marketers. We don’t want our fuel in infrastructure or equipment that isn’t compatible. Ethanol gets plenty of blame for things it doesn’t do. We’ve got no interest in finding out how bad the backlash would be if ethanol actually did any of the things the fearmongers want you to believe it does.