Biden: EPA to issue emergency waiver allowing summer E15 sales

By Erin Voegele | April 12, 2022

President Joe Biden on April 12 announced that his administration will reinstate the ability to sell E15 this summer in an effort to reduce high fuel prices via a national emergency waiver that will be issued by the U.S. EPA.

A statement issued by the White House explains the EPA is expected to take final action to issue the emergency waiver near June 1.

E15 has been available for use in many non-flex fuel vehicles for more than a decade. The U.S. EPA first granted a partial waiver allowing E15 to be used in model year (MY) 2007 and newer light-duty vehicles in 2010. The agency expanded that waiver to include MY 2001 and newer vehicles the following year. The fuel blend, however, could not be sold in most markets during the summer driving season, from June 1 through Sept. 15. A June 2019 rulemaking changed that, extending the 9-psi RVP waiver to E15 and allowing the fuel to be sold during the summer driving season. The EPA’s rule was challenged by oil groups and in June 2021 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the portion of the June 2019 related to E15, overturning the ability for fuel retailer sell the fuel blend year-round. The emergency waiver the EPA is expected to issue will allow E15 to be sold during the summer 2022 driving season.

According to the White House, the emergency waiver allowing summer sales of E15 is expected to help increase fuel supplies, give consumers more choice to get lower prices, and provide savings for many families. “At current prices, E15 can save a family 10 cents per gallon of gas on average, and many stores sell E15 at an even greater discount,” the White House said in a fact sheet. “For working families—families eager to travel and visit their loved ones—that will add up to real savings. Allowing higher levels of blending will also reduce our dependency on foreign fuels as we rely more heavily on home-grown biofuels. This will help us bridge towards real energy independence.”

In implementing the emergency fuel waiver, the EPA will work with states to ensure that there are no significant air quality impacts through the summer driving season. The White House also indicated that the EPA is considering additional action to facilitate the use of E15 year-round, including continued discussions with states who have expressed interested in allowing year-round use of E15 and considering modifications to E15 fuel pump labeling.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan discussed the potential for an emergency waiver allowing summer E15 sales during an April 6 hearing held by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. During the event, Regan confirmed statements made by President Biden that the administration is looking at all the tools available to provide relief for high fuel prices. “We are currently evaluating what flexibilities we have around E15,” he said. “This is a conversation that I and Secretary Vilsack have been having quite a bit as of late. So, I can tell you that we are evaluating what Clean Air Act authorities we have to potentially take advantage of E15.”

At least two states have also petitioned the agency to use its emergency waiver authority to allow E15 sales to continue this summer. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt on April 4 sent a letter Regan asking him to exercise the EPA’s emergency waiver authority under Section 211(c)(4)(C)(ii) of the Clean Air Act to waive the 9-psi RVP limitation for E15 for the 2022 summer ozone control season, which starts June 1 and concludes on Sept. 15.

A statement released by the White House also discusses other steps the administration is taking to expand the use of biobased fuels, including the $700 million in COVID-19 aid to biofuel producers that the USDA is expected to distribute this spring, biofuel infrastructure funding, support for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) development and use, and a canola oil fuel pathway under development by the EPA.  

Biden is expected to discuss the emergency waiver for E15 and other issues related to biofuels during a visit to Poet’s biorefinery in Menlo, Iowa, this afternoon.

Growth Energy has spoken out to thank Biden for lifting restrictions on summer E15 sales. “This welcome news for all American drivers seeking lower cost options at the pump,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “Lifting outdated and unnecessary summertime restrictions on E15 will ensure continued access to a fuel that has been saving drivers as much as 50 to 60 cents a gallon in recent weeks, offering working families relief at the pump at a time when they need it most.  

“Not only is this decision a major win for American drivers and our nation’s energy security, it means cleaner options at the pump and a stronger rural economy,” she continued. “American biofuels like ethanol reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46 percent compared to regular gasoline and are key to achieving the nation’s climate goals.  

“We are grateful to President Biden and for the support of champions like Secretary Vilsack who have helped promote American biofuels as a solution to rising gasoline prices,” Skor added. “We look forward to working with this administration and leaders in Congress to deliver a permanent fix to restore year-round access to E15 in the years ahead.”  

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association is also applauding the administration’s actions. “With high fuel prices and energy security at the forefront of Americans’ minds, allowing nationwide sales of E15 is the single most important step the President is empowered to take to keep fuel costs down this summer while also promoting American-made energy, and we applaud President Biden for taking it,” said Monte Shaw, executive director of the IRFA. “It would have made no sense during this time of oil embargoes and high gasoline prices to let ridiculous and unnecessary restrictions on E15 force thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans to pay higher fuel prices. E15 can now continue to bring relief at the pump throughout 2022.”

The American Coalition for Ethanol stressed that the waiver will help save consumers money. “President Biden’s announcement is great news for the ethanol industry, farmers, and most importantly, American consumers, who are under financial stress from rising energy prices and expenses. E15 is saving families between 10 and 30 cents per gallon, so this is a meaningful step toward reducing gas prices,” said Brian Jennings, CEO of ACE. “We appreciate the President making it clear the farmers and biofuel producers who produce American-made ethanol are part of the solution to address pain at the pump.

“Given the long-term importance to ensuring uninterrupted availability of E15 year-round in all part of the country, we look forward to working with the administration and Congress on a permanent remedy to expand consumer access beyond the emergency measures being taken this summer.

“In addition, we thank President Biden for announcing funding support for biofuels infrastructure and stimulus aid for recovering producers,” Jennings added. “It’s been over two years since COVID-19 shut down the economy and caused a severe market disruption that rocked the ethanol industry and we’re appreciative the administration is delivering on the assistance for biofuel producers.

“As President Biden pledges his support for biofuels today, we also urge him to direct EPA to get the RFS back on track so ethanol can play an even bigger role in helping reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and be part of the solution to climate change.”

The Renewable Fuels Association also welcomed Biden’s announcement. “We applaud President Biden and his administration for recognizing that low-cost, low-carbon ethanol should be given a fair opportunity to strengthen our energy security and reduce record-high pump prices,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “Giving fuel retailers the freedom to offer E15 this summer will not only result in lower fuel prices for hardworking Americans, but it will also cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce tailpipe pollution linked to cancer, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, and other health concerns. As our nation copes with energy price inflation and strives to enhance energy security and diversity, we salute President Biden for turning to America’s farmers and biofuel producers for ingenuity and solutions.”

“The American ethanol industry is deeply appreciative of President Biden’s efforts to embrace domestic renewable fuels as both an immediate answer to high pump prices and a long-term solution for decarbonizing the transportation sector,” Cooper added. “We thank the President for honoring his commitment to the biofuels industry,  and we look forward to working with his administration to implement the commonsense plans announced today.”