EPA regulations complicate things for E15 consumers, retailers

By Holly Jessen | June 06, 2014

This week, Charlie Good, owner of Good and Quick, a Nevada, Iowa, gas station offering E15 and other ethanol blends, changed the stickers on his gas pumps to comply with the U.S. EPA’s Reid Vapor Pressure regulations. Basically, for the summer months, only drivers with flex-fuel vehicles are legally allowed to fill up with E15.

“It’s confusing the public, because they are saying, ‘Can’t we use that gas anymore?’” Good told Ethanol Producer Magazine.

For most of the year, 2001 and newer light duty vehicles can fuel up with E15. But from June 1 to Sept. 15, in most areas of the U.S., the EPA regulates the vapor pressure of gasoline sold at gas stations in an effort to reduce evaporative emissions from gas during the summer ozone season. E10 has a waiver which means it can be sold as a registered fuel in the summer months but EPA did not extend that to E15.  “Ironically, E15 has a lower RVP than the fuel 95 percent of drivers are using, so EPA’s unwillingness to change a 25 year-old regulation effectively mandates higher evaporative emissions and higher prices during the busiest driving season of the year,” said Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, adding that drivers are forced to purchase lower octane fuel for 5 to 40 cents more than E15.

In fact, the RVP regulation limits E15 availability all year long, Lamberty said. “Even though the number of cars built and warrantied to run on E15 is increasing by 15 million a year, and with E15 having been tested and approved by EPA for cars 2001 and newer, stations are balking at offering E15 because they have to meet requirements and obey rules that they don’t have to deal with when selling other fuels that create more pollution.  It’s tough enough to fight E15 bans that oil companies have put in place for branded stations, without also having to fight EPA effectively enforcing that ban for Big Oil.”

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association announced that some Iowa retailers have been forced to temporarily stop offering E15. “Due to the stranglehold oil companies have on the U.S. fuel distribution system, many Iowa motorists are no longer able to benefit from locally-produced E15,”said IRFA Managing Director Lucy Norton. “If oil refiners chose to ship gasoline with the proper vapor pressure into our state, Iowa motorists could have expanded access to cleaner-burning, lower-cost E15 year-round, instead of it being temporarily restricted to only flex-fuel vehicles during the summer.” About a third of the gas sold in the U.S. is the correct blendstock for E15 during the summer but it is not available to retailers in Iowa, IRFA said.