Imagine you're leaving Washington, D.C., for a weekend getaway on May 30. You pull into a Sheetz station and notice there's a new fuel option. It's 88-octane, 10 cents cheaper, and the fuel label tells you it's E15 (15 percent ethanol) and suitable for use in all vehicles made in 2001 or later.
The station manager is coming out to empty a trash can, so just to be sure, you holler over to her, "what is this new E15?" She tells you that her customers love E15 and there's been no complaints.
You're convinced and push the 88-octane button to fuel with E15.
On June 1, you retrace your steps back toward D.C. and pull into the same Sheetz hoping to save a little money with E15. But the sticker has changed – now it says "for flexible fuel vehicles only," and your car isn't one.
Same car, same station, same dispenser, same fuel, same price, same octane, but one day the label says you can use it, and the next day it says you can't. How dumb is that?
Curious, you go inside to find the manager. She shakes her head and says: "I've been hearing that all day. Beats me. You're from D.C., you tell me why the rules for E15 are so stupid."
So you fill up with regular 87-octane E10 and head home. Back on the Hill, you ask an energy staffer friend and discover there's a bill to fix this summer-time quirk for E15 – the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act (Choice Act).
After a little research you find that despite inaccurate info being peddled by oil groups, there isn't a single legitimate reason to oppose the E15 fix.
E15 reduces both evaporative and tailpipe toxic emissions, thereby lowering cancer risks. E15 is higher octane, which is good for your engine and lower cost, which is good for your budget. Over 1 billion trouble-free miles have been driven on E15.
Nevertheless, the Choice Act has yet to move in Congress.
Republican senators like John Barrasso and Jim Inhofe vowed to vote against it because they think the EPA shouldn't have approved E15 in the first place. So much for supporting a free market where retailers are allowed to offer a product and consumers can choose whether to buy it or not.
Regardless of your views on renewable fuels, the Choice Act is not really pro-ethanol as much as it's anti-stupid-government-regulation.
Some conservatives are standing up against the artificial government barriers to E15. While you may not be surprised that Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is a lead sponsor of the Choice Act, maybe you didn't know that just a year ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said "market access is critical" for ethanol and he wants to "rescind the EPA's blend wall" thereby "allowing ethanol to command a much larger share of the energy market."
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul authored the first bill to fix the E15 barrier, stating: "The EPA's onerous regulation of fuels is artificially limiting options for consumers and producers and preventing the adoption of new fuel options that could benefit our environment, our economy, and our energy security."
The outcome will likely come down to whether Republican senators follow the lead of Ernst, Cruz and Paul or knuckle under to protect entrenched petroleum fuels. We urge all senators, even those who may not choose E15 for their own car, to support the Choice Act and allow other motorists the right to make up their own minds.
Hopefully the next time you head out of D.C. and pull into your favorite Sheetz station you can pull the E15 nozzle and select an 88-octane fuel while saving money – regardless of the month. It should be your choice.
Monte Shaw is the executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
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