What Blend Wall? Why Facts Trump Rhetoric Every Time

Half of U.S. states blended more than 10 percent ethanol, RFA's president and CEO points out in his View from the Hill column for the February print edition of Ethanol Producer magazine.
By Bob Dinneen | January 25, 2017

Reps. Bill Flores, R-Texas, and Peter Welch, D-Vt., introduced legislation during the last Congress that would cap ethanol blends in the U.S. transportation pool to no more than 9.7 percent by volume and have vowed to reintroduce the measure in the new Congress. But the bill represents a solution in search of a problem. Here’s why.

Oil companies argue that blending above 9.7 percent will hurt consumers, damage engines and increase cost. Really? Recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy—and analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Association—shows that fuel supplies in 25 states and the District of Columbia in 2015 already contain more than 10 percent ethanol. The national average ethanol blend rate was 9.91 percent, according to the latest available data published by DOE’s Energy Information Administration.

A deep dive into the data is interesting (for more information, see accompanying map). In Minnesota, for example, ethanol comprised 12.5 percent of the gasoline pool in 2015. Not coincidentally, ethanol flex fuels such as E85 are available at roughly one out of every eight stations in the Gopher State. In Iowa, gasoline contained an average of 11.5 percent ethanol in 2015, up from 10.3 percent in 2014 and just 9.5 percent in 2013.

Ethanol also exceeded 10 percent of gasoline consumption in 2015 in coastal states like California, Oregon, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and even Louisiana. For the first time, not a single state had average ethanol content below 9 percent in 2015, the data showed. Vermont ranked last in average ethanol concentration at 9.18 percent.

In 2014, the national average ethanol content was 9.83 percent and 22 states (plus the District of Columbia) were above 10 percent, on average. I expect the 2016 figures to be even higher.

Given this reality, it makes no sense to cap ethanol blends at the arbitrary 9.7 percent blend level, when data for both 2015 and 2014 shows states are already blending above that level. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Why would we want to go backwards? The renewable fuel standard is delivering on its promise to expand consumer access to lower-cost, cleaner fuel options at the pump.

The so-called blend wall has been reduced to a pile of rubble.

So, when you hear Congressmen Flores and Welch and their Big Oil supporters bloviating about this ethanol cap nonsense, point them to the facts. Half of U.S. states blended above 10 percent ethanol on average in 2015 and I expect that number to only grow. There is no blend wall, period.

Author: Bob Dinneen
President and CEO,
Renewable Fuels Association