EPA Action Could Ban Use of Ethanol Blends Above E15 in Non-Flex-Fuel Vehicles
OMAHA (DTN) — With the heated debate over the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard still simmering, a new EPA rule sent to the Office of Management and Budget recently has the potential to stifle higher ethanol blends and expanding markets for corn and other biofuel feedstocks.
The agency recently sent to OMB the Renewables Enhancement and Growth Support Rule, touted as a regulatory rollback to “reduce burden for regulated entities.”
The final rule, which is expected for completion in November, would implement quality specifications for fuel blends containing 16% to 83% ethanol, the OMB notice stated. “This would provide additional flexibility for ethanol flex-fuel (EFF) producers to support distribution and use while continuing to ensure EFF quality is consistent with current vehicle emissions control system needs,” OMB said.
The rule also is designed to allow feedstocks produced at one location to be used at another facility to produce biofuels, and would create new feedstock and fuel pathways in the RFS.
The Urban Air Initiative said in a statement on Monday it may file a legal challenge to the rule, which the group said will effectively make it illegal to use ethanol blends above 15% in any vehicle other than flexible-fuel vehicles, or FFVs.
“This coincidently comes at a time when auto manufacturers are phasing out FFVs,” the group said. “If finalized, it (the rule) would ban E16 and higher blends and would ensure that E15 is the ceiling until new certification fuel or sub-sim waiver is granted.”
The Urban Air Initiative has taken up the charge in recent years to promote high ethanol blends as the future for new engine technologies that require high-octane fuels. Higher ethanol blends have the potential to create more markets for corn, sorghum and other biofuel crops.
The Urban Air Initiative said the EPA is misinterpreting the Clean Air Act provision.
Originally, the rule was introduced by President Barack Obama’s EPA. The group filed comments opposing the proposal. The law regulates fuels that are not already substantially similar to fuels used to test new vehicles.
The group argued in its comments that ethanol already is a fuel additive being used for certification and is no longer regulated by the law. The final rule that was moved to OMB still classifies ethanol blends above E15 as fuels still regulated in new vehicle certification.
Urban Air President David VanderGriend said in a statement to DTN that EPA continues to represent petroleum interests that “suppress” the ethanol industry.
“It absolutely defies logic to tell the ethanol industry that this is any kind of growth or stimulus when in fact it would cap growth and limit value,” VanderGriend said. “At a time when the auto industry is supporting higher blends to provide them with much-needed octane, and our own Department of Energy and national labs have endorsed blends from 20% to 40%, this is nothing more than a market guarantee and giveaway to the petroleum industry.”
Though EPA is touting the rule as a mechanism for expanding the market for flexible-fuel vehicles, VanderGriend said the agency already has hurt that market by phasing out incentives for automakers to build more FFVs.
“We do not need FFVs to utilize higher blends of ethanol,” he said. “We are demonstrating higher blends all over the country, and another EPA fallacy is to suggest the burden of proof is on the ethanol industry to show these fuels do not increase emissions when they have no basis to suggest they do. If this administration considers itself a friend to domestically produced biofuels, I would hate to see what an enemy looks like.”
According to a news release from the UAI, the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, National Farmers Union and other groups who originally filed comments in opposition to the proposal “will consider a legal challenge if finalized.”