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EPA invites public comment on rule that would permit additional ethanol blends above E15

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Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency last week opened public commenting on its recently introduced rule permitting fuel blends above 15 percent with the goal of introducing the rule into law by next December.

As outlined when the agency rolled out the Renewables Enhancement and Growth Support Rule early last month, the EPA proposes to reclassify fuels with 16 to 50 percent ethanol from “gasoline” to “ethanol flex-fuels,” the same category that E85 currently falls in. Such a reclassification would theoretically add more ethanol to the nation’s fuel supply by promoting more widespread adoption of flex-fuel vehicles and of ethanol blender pumps.

The proposal also marks a shift in the EPA’s strategy for implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard. Until last month, the agency focused its efforts to introduce ethanol into the fuel supply on pushing increasingly higher volumes of E10 and E15 – up to 18.11 billion gallons in 2016. However, that tactic has met with resistance from ethanol opponents and from the inability of the nation’s fuel supply to absorb that much ethanol, and that resistance has in turn kept the EPA from meeting the ethanol-blending goals set out in the RFS in 2007.

The proposal does not approve E16 and higher blends for gasoline-only (non-flex fuel) vehicles, nor does it reverse the EPA’s finding that blends higher than 10 percent are not safe for vehicles produced before 2001. In fact, if the rule does spur wider adoption of flex-fuel vehicles, it may even lead to less pressure to add more E10 and E15 fuel to the nation’s supply.

In addition to opening up the rule to public comment on, the EPA has also set a public hearing for the proposal for December 6 at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in Chicago. The deadline for public comments is January 17.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report from Bloomberg News, ethanol opponents have spent much of this month canvassing Washington, D.C., in support of the Food and Fuel Consumer Protection Act of 2016, which would cap annual ethanol blending requirements at no more than 9.7 percent of the nation’s fuel supply. The bill currently sits in the House Committee of Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power and stands to expire at the end of the current Congressional term without further action.

The EPA is also expected to deliver a final ruling on ethanol blending requirements for 2017 by November 30. In May, the agency proposed increasing the 2017 amount to 18.8 billion gallons, or about 10.44 percent of the nation’s fuel supply.