The Environmental Protection Agency approved a multi-state fuel waiver from Texas to Washington, D.C., over concerns of fuel supply disruptions increasing after Hurricane Harvey, which inadvertently is also seen as helping the ethanol industry.
The EPA fuel waiver makes it easier for gasoline and diesel supplies to be distributed by relaxing Clean Air Act regulations that require special blends be made available to meet state-specific emission requirements.
The states included in the waiver are: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, and D.C.
EPA has issued waivers for counties and parishes in Texas and Louisiana over the last four days, but Wednesday's waiver is different. In addition to including 12 states and the District in the waiver, the elimination of the volatility requirements for gasoline gives the corn ethanol industry the ability to sell higher 15-percent ethanol blends in the gasoline supply in those states, according to the Renewable Fuels Association, the lead trade group for the industry.
The ethanol group pressed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt this week to issue a national fuel waiver that would allow for higher 15-percent ethanol-to-gasoline fuel blends. Most of the country's gasoline includes 10 percent ethanol, or E10, but the industry wants year-round availability of 15-percent blends so it can meet EPA mandates to blend more renewable fuel.
Current EPA emission rules don't allow for E15 to be blended in the summer because of its high fuel volatility and pressure rating. But the new waiver relaxes those requirements for reformulated gasoline and low volatility gasoline through Sept. 15, opening up an opportunity to sell more E15 from the Gulf Coast to the Mid-Atlantic.
"This allows for the sale of E15 in those conventional gasoline areas of the states covered by the waiver and is effectively what we asked of the agency on Monday," said Bob Dinneen, the group's CEO and president.
"Retailers must still meet or be deemed compliant with other regulatory requirements associated with selling E15, such as the Misfueling Mitigation Plan," Dinneen said. That plan is an EPA requirement to ensure certain model-year vehicles do not use E15 because it could damage the engine.
Dinneen's letter to Pruitt on Monday framed ethanol as a cheaper alternative to gasoline that will help reduce the cost of fuel during a time when disruptions are expected to drive prices higher. "But consumers facing likely gasoline supply issues as a result of Hurricane Harvey are one important step closer today to a high-octane, lost-cost alternative," Dinneen said Wednesday.