It is time to address RVP

Summer is coming to a close, which means people are wrapping up vacations, kids are back in school and the summer driving season is coming to an end. This column appears in the September 2016 issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Mike Lorenz | August 19, 2016

Summer is coming to a close, which means people are wrapping up vacations, kids are back in school and the summer driving season is coming to an end. For many, the summer driving season simply means more people out on the road and generally higher gas prices, but for fuel retailers the period presents a special problem.

Back in 1990, Congress limited the amount of evaporative emissions from vehicle fuel at 9 pounds per square inch (psi) Reid vapor pressure (RVP) in the Clean Air Act. While pure ethanol has a 3 psi RVP, when combined with gasoline at low levels, the RVP of the total fuel blend exceeds 9 psi. To accommodate ethanol blends, Congress specified that fuel with 10 percent ethanol would receive a 1 psi RVP waiver, and extended that relief to blends below 10 percent. Unfortunately, EPA has shown no willingness to extend the waiver to blends above 10 percent, which severely restricts the sale of E15 during the summer driving season, June 1 to Sept. 15.

The restrictions placed on E15 due to the statutory RVP limits cause a number of problems for retailers who want to offer consumers a wide variety of choice at the pump. First off, it creates a gray area at our retail locations and leaves us with a menu of unappealing options. We either have to block off the hoses that pump E15, which confuses customers into thinking our facilities are broken, or sell E15 as a flex fuel, which limits the market for the fuel and isn’t explicitly regulated by the EPA. All of those options obviously are problematic and discourage some retailers from offering the fuel altogether simply to avoid having to deal with the hassle of making those costly adjustments in the summer. Having an obscure statute from 1990 preclude retailers from offering such an outstanding product, especially considering E15 actually has a lower RVP profile than E10, seems counterproductive and, frankly, silly. 

Furthermore, these RVP restrictions hurt consumers. At Sheetz, we take pride in offering our consumers many fueling options, which includes a cleaner burning, high-performance fuel that is better for the environment and saves consumers money. E15 clearly provides a great value to consumers and these restrictions confuse them or prevent them from accessing E15 altogether. When customers go to the pump any other time of the year, they see E15 at the dispenser, but when they go to fill up their cars in the summer, they see it presented as a flex fuel. It is understandably confusing for anyone who is not intimately familiar with these technical restrictions. In cases where retailers stop carrying the fuel entirely during the RVP season, consumers show up to the pump expecting to fill their cars with E15 as they’ve done all year, only to find it’s no longer offered. In the worst case scenario, when retailers choose not to offer E15 at all because of the summer hassle and financial constraints of complying with the RVP regulations, consumers are robbed of another gasoline choice at the pump during the other eight and one half months of the year without even knowing it.

Retailers and consumers are both hurt by E15 not being available for use with 2001 and newer vehicles during the busy summer driving season. All because of an archaic technicality from 26 years ago. Now that the summer driving season is coming to a close and Congress is reconvening, we urge you to reach out to your elected officials and ask them to remove this unnecessary barrier. It constricts retailer freedom and inhibits consumer choice. We know that consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever before and, at the end of the day, we want to help them make a positive impact on the environment by filling up with E15, and offer them savings at the pump. Tell your officials to vote yes on bills S. 1239 and H.R. 1736, which would extend the RVP waiver to ethanol blends above 10 percent so we can continue to expand the available fuel options for consumers across the country.



Author: Mike Lorenz
Executive Vice President of Petroleum Supply, Sheetz
814-946-3611