Slow rollout of E15 in California means higher prices at pump

By Holly Jessen | November 15, 2012

Approval of E15 in California is moving slowly and, ultimately, the losers are consumers, who will pay more for gasoline, said Andy Foster, spokesperson for Aemetis Inc., a biofuel producer that’s a member of the California Advanced Energy Coalition. With the data available on the safety of E15, there’s no reason the process to approve it should take years, as the California Air Resources Board recently said it would. “Frankly, let’s move on,” Foster told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “This isn’t something that is new, it’s not as though this just came along. Discussions have been going on with CARB for more than a year about the adoption of E15.”

Foster’s comments were in response to an American Motorcycle Association press release put out Nov. 9, which touted a letter it had received from Michael Waugh, chief of CARB’s Transportation Fuels Branch. AMA had asked CARB not to approve the use of E15 until concerns about the misfueling were addressed. The organization wants a better solution than the U.S. EPA’s misfueling mitigation plan, which requires consumers to purchase at least four gallons of fuel from blender pumps that dispense both E10 and E15.

Waugh wrote that CARB would be watching EPA’s continued assessment of its E15 missfueling plan and would keep AMA’s concerns in mind if E15 were approved for sale in California. “If [California’s] ARB chooses to allow E15 as a transportation fuel, it would take several years to complete the vehicle testing and rule development necessary to introduce a new transportation fuel into California’s market,” he said.

In October, the California Advanced Energy Coalition called on CARB to make accommodations for E15, considering the fact that ethanol was selling for more than $1 less than the price of wholesale gasoline. “We think that with the data that is current and available, the process for adopting E15 in California should not take years,” Foster said. “We’re disappointed with the timeframe that was outlined in the letter.”

E15 has gone through more than $42 million and millions of miles in testing, equal to six trips to the moon. “This is the most tested fuel ever,” he said, suggesting that, despite the fact that California has its own fuel blend and requirements, the state needs to update its models based on EPA’s approval of E15 for model year 2001 and newer light-duty motor vehicles. “The science doesn’t seem to be an obstacle,” he said.

California has taken big steps toward being a leader in the clean air arena by being the first state to establish a low carbon fuel standard and a cap-and-trade program. How is it possible, Foster wondered, that the same state would take two years to increase ethanol blending levels? “The timeframe for moving on these things versus the goals of this program seem to be misaligned, in my view,” he said.