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EPA to again allow summer E15

Emergency wavier permits nationwide sales for third consecutive year.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

April 19, 2024

4 Min Read
Cornfield and grain elevator
Getty Images/JJ Gouin

As expected, the EPA issued an emergency waiver allowing nationwide E15 sales again this summer. In an April 19 letter to state governors announcing the decision, EPA Administrator Michael Regan says Russia’s war on Ukraine has profoundly impacted global and domestic energy markets for several years. He also cited conflicts in the Middle East that have disrupted shipping routes and crude oil supplies. Additionally, OPEC continues to cut oil production, further restricting global supply.

“After weighing the societal benefits of an incrementally higher volume of gasoline being made available to the public and considering that no significant change in air pollution is projected to occur as a result of this action, the EPA concludes that this action is in the public interest,” Regan says.

He notes that U.S. refining capacity as of this January was still 550,000 barrels per day less than it was in January 2020. This, despite U.S. producers adding approximately 368,000 additional barrels of per-day capacity in 2023.

The continued refining capacity shortage is due in large part to refinery closures during the pandemic. Supply interruptions caused by hurricanes and accidents are also contributing factors.

Despite the capacity shortfalls, gasoline demand as of March 29 was treading above the 5-year seasonal average.

Related:Ethanol advocates welcome bipartisan E15 bill

This is the third consecutive year the Biden administration has issued an emergency waiver allowing summer E15. Joshua Shields, vice president of corporate affairs for biofuel manufacturer POET, says maintaining access to E15 will bring big benefits to drivers because it gives them a “clean, affordable option at the pump when they need it most.”

While happy that uncertainty has been cleared up for this summer, Shields says he hopes Congress will eventually come up with a long-term solution.

The American Coalition for Ethanol offered similar remarks, praising the wavier, but hoping for more. ACE officials have been lobbying hard for another waiver over the past several weeks.

“Today’s action is an important reminder that higher ethanol blends play a critical part in our nation’s energy security as well as contribute significant climate and air quality benefits,” ACE CEO Brian Jennings says. “A permanent solution to year-round E15 will ensure these benefits aren’t left to the whim of ad hoc agency decision making in the future.”

Why is summer E15 prohibited?

EPA defines E15 as gasoline blended with 10.5% to 15% ethanol. The agency approved the fuel in 2011 for use in light-duty conventional vehicles from model year 2001 and later. However, laws intended to reduce evaporative emissions restrict those sales in summer months.

Related:EPA approves summer E15 sales in 8 midwestern states

Simply put, E15 evaporates more quickly in warm weather than E10. This is largely due to the different vapor pressure of winter and summer fuel blends. As Administrator Regan noted in his emergency wavier letter, E15 is subject to the same volatility standards as E10. Therefore, summer E15 should not cause any additional air quality impacts because gasoline’s ethanol content does not change its evaporative emissions.

Still, Clean Water Act regulations prohibit excess evaporative emissions in many parts of the country. Those regulations were established well before E15 entered the market.

Ethanol groups have long argued that current data shows summer E15 does not adversely affect air quality more than other summer fuels. Earlier this year, EPA approved summer E15 sales in eight midwestern states. That came after officials in those states requested a waiver from EPA’s summer E15 rules.

EPA’s Senior Advisor for Agriculture Rod Snyder agrees that the latest clean air modeling shows negligible differences between winter and summer E15 emissions compared to other summer fuels. Still, allowing permeant summer sales remains a challenge.

“There were no significant air quality impacts as a result of that change,” Snyder says. “So basically, our scientists have said there’s no real concern here. But the barrier is a statutory barrier. It’s not a scientific barrier.”

As the law currently stands, EPA can only allow summer E15 sales through a waiver process. During the Trump administration, EPA officials passed new rules allowing for year-round E15 sales. Federal courts overturned the rules, saying EPA overstepped its authority.

Essentially, the courts ruled that since Congress created the Clean Water Act law, it’s up to lawmakers to revise it. Last year, Sen’s Amy Klobuchar, D- Minn., and Deb Fischer, R- Neb., introduced the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act of 2023 to do just that. Reps. Angie Craig, D- Minn., and Adrian Smith, R- Neb. introduced similar legislation in the House. Those bills are among several legislative efforts Congress has recently taken to expand summer E15 availability.

Lawmakers have yet to advance those bills. Until that changes, “emergency” waivers may continue to be the norm.

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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