Biofuel groups applaud senate hearing RVP waiver bill

By Erin Voegele | June 14, 2017

On June 14, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on legislation that aims to extend the 1 pound per square inch (psi) Reid vapor pressure (RVP) waiver to gasoline blends that contain more than 10 percent ethanol.

The legislation, titled “The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act,” or S. 517, was introduced on March 2 by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. To date, 17 senators have signed on to cosponsor the legislation.

The hearing was expected to feature testimony from Brook Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council; Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel at the Clean Air Task Force’ Mirk Lorenz, executive vice president of Sheetz Inc.; Todd Teske, chairman, president and CEO of Briggs & Stratton Corp.; and Janet Yanowitz, principal engineer at Ecoengineering Inc.

In his opening statement, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the hearing aims to explore what the bill means for air quality and what type of impact it would have on corn ethanol production. He indicated he does not support the bill, noting it would codify in statute the EPA’s 2011 decision to approve E15 for use in model year 2001 and newer vehicles. He said he believes the Renewable Fuel Standard is broken and the U.S. EPA is not in a position to fix it. While Barrasso said, however, that no one should be surprised that he doesn’t support S. 517, the legislation does deserve a full and fair hearing before the committee.

During his opening statement, Tom Carper, D-Del., said he believes that, if done correctly, biofuels can provide an environmentally friendlier option to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign energy production.  

“The bipartisan bill before us today assumes gasoline with ethanol blends greater than 10 percent contribute to ozone pollution no more or no less than gasoline blends with 10 percent ethanol—and, therefore, the fuels should be treated the same under the Clean Air Act,” Carper said. “My first and foremost concern is making sure that assumption is correct. Representing a downwind state with ozone pollution problems, I want to make sure passing this legislation will not increase ozone pollution that would make it more difficult for my state to reach attainment. Along this line, states with extreme ozone concerns—like Delaware—have the authority to regulate the fuels sold within its borders.  I want to make sure this legislation does not inhibit states’ rights to address ozone pollution.”

Carper also expressed concern over whether the bill would benefit advanced biofuels.

In his testimony, Coleman said swift passage of S .517 is critical to cellulosic ethanol producers for one primary reason—market opportunity. Project finance in the advanced biofuel sector, he said, depends on being able to demonstrate the opportunity for market demand if technological and production benchmarks are hit.

Lorenz described Sheetz experience in selling E15 during his testimony. He said Sheetz is currently the largest E15 retailer in the U.S., and stressed the company has not received a single consumer compliant regarding the fuel. Our customers like this fuel, he said, noting they now also demand it. Not being able to sell E15 in the summer, however, presents a major challenge, he said. “Frankly, we think this problem is nothing more than a technicality that can be easily fixed with no impact to consumers or the U.S. fuel supply chain,” Lorenz continued.

“This minor fix would be a major relief to retailers offering E15 today and would remove one of the biggest barriers for other retailers who want to offer E15,” Lorenz continued. “For consumers, it would provide year-round access and increased availability of E15. Consumers should also benefit from this rule update, since E15 typically sells for less than regular unleaded gasoline and is cleaner burning and higher octane.”

Several biofuel trade groups have spoken out in support of S. 517, including Growth Energy.  “For years, Growth Energy has led the charge to put choice into the hands of consumers by expanding the marketplace for higher blends of ethanol,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “The testimony heard today provides clear evidence that Congress should move forward and ensure that consumers benefit year-round from higher ethanol blends that reduce emissions and protect our heath and our climate. The success of today’s hearing is the culmination of the countless efforts of our association as well as our champions in the Senate, our friends in the fuel retail industry, and numerous others in the industry. We especially thank two of the witnesses—Mike Lorenz, Executive Vice President of Sheetz Inc., and Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Biofuels Business Council—for presenting strong, fact-based testimonies that clearly stated the benefits this fix would bring to consumers by giving them a cleaner, more affordable option at the pump year-round.”

The Renewable Fuels Association issued a statement noting it enthusiastically supports S. 517. “The biggest remaining obstacle to E15 growth is the inequitable application of gasoline vapor pressure regulations,” RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen wrote in a letter to Barrasso and Carper. “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current regulations have created an un-level playing field for E15 and other higher-level blends. Many gasoline retailers have rejected E15 because EPA’s current RVP regulations make it nearly impossible for them to sell E15 to EPA-approved conventional automobiles year-round. Most gas stations are not willing to dedicate storage tank space and dispensing equipment to a fuel that they can only sell for part of the year. Resolving the issue of RVP parity for E15 will remove the regulatory barrier that currently hinders stations from offering year-round access to E15 and other higher level ethanol blends.”

The American Coalition for Ethanol is also speaking out in support of the bill. “Senators Fischer, R-Neb.; Ernst, R-Iowa; and Duckworth, D-Ill., all members of the EPW Committee, are providing timely leadership in making sure this priority issue gets the attention it deserves in Congress,” said Brian Jennings, ACE executive vice president.  “We’re encouraged that today’s hearing can be the first step toward enactment of legislation to give retailers the choice to offer E15 and higher blends to their customers year-round.”