OPINION: Better fuel, lower cost. Can that be right?

By Ron Lamberty, senior vice president at the American Coalition for Ethanol | July 03, 2019

During the week and a half following President Trump’s Council Bluffs, Iowa, announcement saying EPA had updated Reid vapor pressure (RVP) regulations to allow E15 (15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) to be sold under the same rules as the 10 percent ethanol blend used in over 90 percent of cars on the road today, I heard from a handful of pump and equipment suppliers, each of whom had heard from their own handful of retailers, wondering… well, they were wondering a lot of things.

Most importantly, the retailers were wondering if it could even be remotely possible their station could legally put E15 in one of their underground storage tanks and sell it using their existing equipment. After all, they’ve been told, persistently and consistently for several years, that none of the gas stations or convenience stores in the U.S. were equipped to sell E15, and it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to upgrade or replace equipment to sell higher ethanol blends if they wanted to try.

The problem is that both of those statements—carefully crafted for anti-ethanol misinformation campaigns—are arguably not untrue, which is what makes for top-notch propaganda. Re-read that if you have to… We’re not talking about facts—we’re talking about statements you could argue aren’t really lies. Most stations would have to make some changes to sell E15, and some might have to add new tanks which could cost several hundred thousand dollars. But that would be a very small number of stores, and they don’t have to sell E15. No one is required to buy or sell it. Most stations would need parts like hanging hardware and maybe submersible pumps, but rarely would entire new systems be required. It’s nowhere near as dire as oil companies want to believe.

The important and exciting thing is when the President said they could sell E15 year-round, retailers figured they might as well check. Marketers are asking their petroleum equipment suppliers about adding E15, and that’s who you call when you want to make a change to your fuel offerings. The pump and tank guys called us to make sure they can do what they think they can do, legally (even they got sucked in by some of the oil refiner rhetoric). I responded to every equipment company call with links to NREL’s E15 report, a chart showing the test results used to create the pipe dope bogeyman, a template for the letter retailers have to send to EPA and a link to the testing protocol stations have to sign up for. The installers might not need all of them yet. But they will.

The other things retailers wondered about were how long E15 had been available at the terminal, and when did it become cheaper than E10? After all, they’ve been told over and over and over that more ethanol meant higher prices, which made sense, because refiners have always called the Renewable Fuel Standard an “ethanol mandate.” The government wouldn’t have to mandate refiners to use a fuel that’s cleaner, higher octane and costs less, would they? You wouldn’t think so, would you? You know, unless the industry you’re talking about would squeeze every last penny out of every consumer any way they can…

Meanwhile, as a retailer, if you can offer your customers a better product at a lower price, you’d try to do it. Hence, the retailers’ calls to equipment companies.