Year-Round E15: There’s More than One Way to Peel a Banana

We’re not giving up on year-round E15. Far from it. We’re pushing harder than ever to restore fair market access for this cleaner-burning fuel. And we won’t stop until we’ve succeeded.
By Geoff Cooper | January 24, 2022

When the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with oil refiners last July and struck down EPA’s regulation allowing year-round sales of E15, it would have been easy for the ethanol industry to give up and throw in the towel. We could have decided to just walk away from the idea of year-round E15 and move on to other potential avenues for growing ethanol demand.

But that’s not what we do in the ethanol industry. We don’t take “no” for an answer. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and look for other creative ways to accomplish the mission. Rather than accepting defeat in the wake of the court decision, RFA immediately went to work developing alternative strategies to restore the marketplace’s ability to sell E15 year-round nationwide.

Extending E10’s RVP waiver to E15—the approach tried by EPA and rejected by the court—isn’t the only way to achieve regulatory parity and facilitate year-round sales for E15. As a modern take on an old saying goes, there is more than one way to peel a banana.

Recognizing this, the governors of seven Midwest states sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan in early November seeking guidance from the agency on how best to pursue a specific—and little known—provision of the Clean Air Act that allows independent states to establish a level playing field for E15. Governors signing the bipartisan letter were Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa), Pete Ricketts (R-Nebraska), Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), Tony Evers (D-Wisconsin), Doug Burgum (R-North Dakota), Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), and Mike Parson (R-Missouri). In addition, Gov. Laura Kelly (D-Kansas) sent her own similar letter to EPA.

These governors recognize just how important E15 market access is for the Midwest economy. The bloc of eight contiguous states represented by the governors is home to 140 of the nation’s 206 ethanol plants, more than 200,000 jobs supported by the ethanol industry, and more than half of the nation’s retail stations that offer E15. The states combined consume approximately 13 billion gallons of gasoline annually. That means a universal move from E10 to E15 across these states would expand ethanol consumption by nearly 700 million gallons and boost corn demand by 225 million bushels.

As of late December, these governors—and the ethanol industry—were planning their next steps and anxiously awaiting a response to their inquiry from EPA. But RFA was not content to just wait for the agency to respond to the governors. So, we led a complementary effort to encourage EPA to use its legal authority to eradicate the RVP barrier nationwide once and for all.

In a letter to EPA in December, RFA—along with the American Farm Bureau Federation, Growth Energy, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, and National Sorghum Producers—requested that the agency begin the process to enact regulations requiring lower-volatility conventional gasoline blendstock in the summertime. Similar to the approach suggested by the governors, this would put E15 on equal regulatory footing with E10 and allow uninterrupted year-round sales of the higher blend.

Meanwhile, RFA continues to lend its support to legislation introduced in both the House and Senate to remove the arcane E15 RVP barrier. Attempting to fix the issue legislatively would take a heavy lift and could open the door to more mischief-making from refiners and their supporters in Congress; still, we continue to look for smart and safe opportunities to advance these commonsense legislative proposals.

Simply put, we’re not giving up on year-round E15. Far from it. We’re pushing harder than ever to restore fair market access for this cleaner-burning fuel. And we won’t stop until we’ve succeeded.

Author: Geoff Cooper
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association
[email protected]