OPINION: Fuel retailers join push for year-round E15

By Robert White, vice president of industry relations, Renewable Fuels Association | April 05, 2022

As the Russian attack on Ukraine continues with no end in sight, its impact on oil and fuel prices is clearly felt each time someone fuels up at the pump.  Multiple solutions have been explored, and a growing consensus is the immediate authorization of year-round E15 sales, something unfortunately struck down by a court last year.

The Renewable Fuels Association was thrilled to see the major trade associations representing fuel retailers jump aboard this effort last month, with a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, urging EPA to use its waiver authority under the Clean Air Act to immediately authorize year-round E15 sales. “This common-sense step,” they note, “would provide much-needed price relief at the pump while enhancing America’s energy security and improving gasoline’s emissions characteristics.”

These three associations speak for a significant portion of the retail fuel space and their perspectives are considered  highly credible. NACS represents the convenience store industry, with more than 1,500 retail and 1,600 supplier companies as members; NATSO represents 5,000 travel plazas and truck stops nationwide; and SIGMA represents a diverse membership of independent chain retailers and marketers of motor fuel. Together, these three associations represent over 90 percent of motor fuel sales in the United States.

Like the ethanol industry itself, fuel retailers need stability and consistency. When these businesses face regulatory roadblocks, they are often left  deciding between the cost of removing those roadblocks and giving their customers what they want.  

“The consumer is telling us they want E15 and it's been encouraging to see that and we've enjoyed doing it for them and we want to do more of it,” said Eric Fobes, head ethanol trader for Pilot. “But if we can't get around the regulatory hurdles, it's impossible to continue.”

“The federal agencies are paying less attention to liquid fuels than they should be, in part because of the all-consuming focus around electricity,” said Doug Kantor, general counsel for NACS. “So it's just a tough time, and this is a priority for the retail industry, that folks be able to sell E15 or whatever they want to sell during the summertime. The change just does not make any sense and the juxtaposition of the one-pound waiver for E10 and not E15 does not make a lot of sense, but that's where we are. We're hoping to do something to salvage it.”

Prior to the unrest in Eastern Europe, year-round E15 already made sense as a means to reduce gas prices, bolster energy security and the rural economy, and help clear the air. Now, with gas prices much higher, RFA believes it’s time for Washington to move more quickly, and consumers agree. In a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult, three in four American voters support expanding the availability of E15 as a way to replace petroleum imports from Russia.

As this country’s leading association representing ethanol producers, we can’t help but agree with our retailer peers: ”This is a unique situation where the Administration’s energy security and geopolitical objectives are fully aligned with its environmental priorities. Allowing year-round E15 would make the U.S. more energy secure, enhancing the nation’s geopolitical leverage all the while improving gasoline’s emissions characteristics.”