By JORDAN STRICKLER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A draft proposal allowing year-round sales of E15 gasoline is on its way to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The process will need to be completed before June 1 for the fuel to be available for summer sales.
The U.S. EPA had planned on releasing the draft rule in February, but was delayed by the 35-day government shutdown.
“RFA is pleased to see that the first official step in the regulatory process to allow year-round E15 is finally being taken, and we agree with President Trump that the RVP (Reid vapor pressure) barrier was always ‘unnecessary’ and ‘ridiculous,’” said Renewable Fuels Assoc. President and CEO Geoff Cooper.
The whole process can take several weeks, in which time changes to the draft can be made. After the review – which can take up to 30 days – is complete, the EPA will issue a proposed rule which is then open for public comment, which can take 45 days. After the comment period closes, the EPA will review all comments and may make changes, and prepares a final rule.
“The clock is ticking,” said Cooper. “Retailers, marketers, terminal operators, and others in the supply chain are looking for clear signals and assurances from the administration that this barrier will indeed be removed before the summer driving season, as promised by the President.”
The move comes at a critical time for farmers. A report released by the USDA on March 6 projected farm income at $69.4 billion. If accurate, this would be the third time since 2015 that income will not exceed $70 billion. This is far below levels earlier this decade, when a seven-year commodity boom propelled income to a record $123.4 billion.
In October 2018, Trump directed the EPA to begin the review process, a move that was both hailed and jeered by his supporters, with five Republican senators sending a letter to him last month critical of his biofuel policies. Both the corn and oil industries have been in a tug-of-war, with many oil refineries given hardship waivers by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
“The American ethanol industry and farmers across the country have suffered greatly” as a result of Pruitt’s efforts to destroy demand for renewable fuels and undermine the effectiveness of the Renewable Fuel Standard, said Cooper. “That is why President Trump’s promise last October to allow year-round sales of E15 by this summer was met with such enthusiasm and appreciation.”
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said he was doubtful of the June 1 timeline, at a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing on Feb. 28. Shortly after, he reversed his position when EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the rule would be completed on time.
“EPA is planning on releasing its RVP/RIN (Renewable Identification Number) market reform proposal in March, and working expeditiously to propose and finalize the rule consistent with the president’s direction before the start of the summer driving season,” agency spokesman Michael Abboud stated.
The move to year-round E15 is expected to be beneficial to customers at the pump. The University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics calculated that increasing the use of ethanol to 10 percent in gasoline, or E10, saved U.S. consumers $7 billion between 2008-16.