Retailers continue to wait for E15 approval

By Kris Bevill | May 14, 2012

An anticipated May 1 start date for E15 sales to drivers of 2001 and newer vehicles In Kansas failed to materialize as retailers and ethanol industry representatives continue to work through the U.S. EPA’s long list of implementation conditions.

Scott Zaremba, owner of Zarco 66 Inc., had hoped to begin selling E15 from blender pumps at his eight Kansas City-area retail stations May 1, but as of May 10, he had yet to receive EPA’s approval. The EPA had communicated with him recently in response to questions regarding misfueling mitigation and ensuring that the correct amount of ethanol would be dispensed, and he was optimistic that the final approval would be granted soon but he hesitated to predict a new timeline for E15 introduction, noting that working through the barrage of regulatory requirements “takes a little time.”

The Renewable Fuels Association has been at the forefront of completing E15’s regulatory issues and continues to work closely with retailers, but said May 11 that no retailer had yet received EPA’s approval to sell the fuel. “The RFA is still trying to finalize some outstanding issues with EPA and expect those to be resolved within the month,” Matt Hartwig, RFA communications director, said. Kansas, Iowa and Illinois are still expected to be the first states to offer E15 for 2001 and newer vehicles because those states do not have regulations preventing the fuel’s sale or use. However, the RFA is engaged with regulators in all states to clear E15 for use everywhere, according to Hartwig.

The RFA encourages all interested retailers to contact the group for assistance regarding the introduction of E15 to their customers. The group has created an E15 Retailer Handbook, a sample Misfueling Mitigation Plan and provides information related to E15 in collaboration with the American Coalition for Ethanol through the Blend Your Own Ethanol campaign, as well as through a collaborative stakeholder education effort known as the E15 Education & Outreach Coalition. “The RFA is working hand in glove with fuel producers, suppliers and retailers to make sure they are introducing E15 into the market smoothly and in accordance with EPA requirements,” Hartwig said. “Most importantly, the RFA continues to interface with EPA on a daily basis on behalf of ethanol producers, gasoline suppliers and retailers to make sure E15 is introduced smoothly, safely and successfully.”

An EPA representative noted that the agency has approved the sample Misfueling Mitigation Plan and has provided guidance related to the compatibility of underground storage tank systems with biofuel blends, but said the agency otherwise does not typically work directly with retailers.

Rick Kment, ethanol analyst for DTN, said that despite the anticipated impact of E15’s introduction, it’s still uncertain how popular the fuel will be with retailers nationwide. The EPA’s partial waiver approval prevents approximately 40 percent of all vehicles on the road today from using E15, he said, and retailers may not be willing to sacrifice that portion of the consumer market if pump availability forces them to choose between selling E15 and E10. However, he estimates that in about five years, the percentage of 2000 and older vehicles models will shrink to only about 15 percent of the nation’s vehicles, at which point many more retailers may consider making the switch to E15. But until retailers receive EPA approval to sell the ethanol blend, it remains anyone’s guess.