Summertime relief at the pump

FROM THE JULY ISSUE: E15 suffers with no Reid vapor pressure waiver.
By Emily Skor | June 20, 2017

Leading into the peak driving season, AAA predicted that the average cost for a gallon of fuel would climb by 40 cents this summer. For some, that’s enough to put the brakes on vacation plans. For others, it’s enough to turn the daily commute into a major drain on the household budget. Interestingly, supply and demand are far from the only factors that drive this seasonal climb in gas prices.

Federal fuel regulations play a major role. That’s because warm summer weather makes it tougher to hold down automotive emissions, so the U.S. EPA requires cleaner fuel blends from June 1 to Sept. 15. Cleaner fuels are often more expensive, but they don’t have to be.

In 29 states, many retailers offer E15, a 15 percent ethanol blend that is approved for any passenger vehicle built since 2001. It tends to cost around 5 to 10 cents less per gallon. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, E15 can also help “reduce harmful volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, displace cancer causing emissions, and reduce smog-forming potential.” And ethanol reduces carbon emissions by 43 percent compared to gasoline.

Given these facts, one would think demand for higher ethanol blends would skyrocket during the summer, both to protect our air and our wallets. But an arcane EPA standard is standing in the way. It’s called Reid vapor pressure (RVP) — a measure of how quickly fuel evaporates. The law hasn’t been updated since 1990, and it is hopelessly out of date. A key waiver that applies to fuels containing zero to 10 percent ethanol was never extended to E15, so many convenience stores are forced to relabel all of their E15 as flex-fuel only options, which is costly and a logistical headache. Others avoid selling E15 entirely, simply to avoid the seasonal confusion and cost of a switch that requires relabeling of all pumps carrying E15.

For biofuel producers, this seemingly minor regulatory hurdle has become the single greatest barrier to market-driven growth. At the same time, our environment suffers needlessly, retailers carry an expensive burden and consumers lose access to one of the most affordable, high-performance fuels on the market—exactly when gas prices are at their peak.

That’s why Growth Energy has been leading the charge for more than three years to secure passage of legislation that would level the playing field for homegrown biofuels. The bipartisan Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (S.517) was introduced by Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and 14 other bipartisan senators in March.

This legislation adds two words to the 1990 law, extending the RVP waiver to fuel with 10 percent or more ethanol, allowing retailers across the country to offer more biofuel choices to customers year-round. The proposal has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and even EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has expressed his hope for a fix.

We’re also working with a broad coalition of allies to remind lawmakers that this legislation does more than lift restrictions on summertime ethanol sales. It creates a vital market for continued investment in the next generation of cellulosic biofuels produced from agricultural waste and other natural materials. And it guarantees our retail partners can continue to invest in the rapid expansion of E15 pumps across the country, giving motorists the opportunity to save millions of dollars each year.

Thanks to our efforts with retail partners, the number of filling stations offering E15 increased by a staggering 500 percent in 2016. And, we’re just getting started. For example, our allies at Kwik Trip are working to add E15 at more than 500 locations in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin alone. These numbers are just a sample of what we can accomplish once filling stations are free to offer E15 year-round without arbitrary restrictions.

To help get this vital fix onto the president’s desk, I encourage everyone who cares about clean, homegrown energy to join us in urging lawmakers to support this historic opportunity to make summer a little brighter—and a lot more affordable—for everyone.

Author: Emily Skor
CEO, Growth Energy