Here’s an update on recent news items and other public policy developments during the last few weeks relating to the use and market acceptance of 15% blends of ethanol into gasoline (“E15″) and other higher blends of ethanol such as E85.
E15 Appeals Court ruling appealed to Supreme Court. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has filed a petition to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review and overturn the opinion of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which threw out a lawsuit that had challenged EPA’s waivers approving E15 ethanol blends. The Appeals Court had ruled that the various plaintiffs (companies and trade associations) did not have legal standing to challenge EPA’s actions. The automakers association again cited the alleged damage that E15 may do to automobile engines, and their assertion that more study of E15’s effects is needed. The Supreme Court usually agrees to hear only a small fraction of the cases appealed to it, so the prospects for further review of this lawsuit are not clear.
Impact of EPA’s proposed sulfur rule on ethanol. The U.S. EPA has issued a proposed regulation revising the standards for sulfur emissions in gasoline (the so-called “Tier 3 Rule”). The proposed rule would require that sulfur emissions from gasoline be reduced from the current 30 ppm to 10 ppm by model year 2017. Although this rule doesn’t directly affect ethanol mandates, it has several provisions relating to ethanol (there is a good summary of these provisions in Ethanol Producer magazine). In the rules, EPA assumes that the Renewable Fuel Standard volume requirements will at least partially be met by the time these new limits take effect in 2017, and therefore reflect a mix of E10 and E15 by 2017 and 100% E15 by 2030. The baseline test fuel for auto manufacturers to determine their emissions is proposed to be E15, although EPA has also requested comment on E10 as an alternative. The proposal also includes (apparently for the first time) detailed specifications for an E85 emissions test fuel to be used for flex-fuel vehicle certification and there is also a provision allowing manufacturers to request approval for mid-level ethanol blends such as E30. In addition, some feel that these more stringent emission standards may present a market opportunity for ethanol, if blenders wish to take advantage of ethanol’s higher octane rating. This is a proposed rule and there will be a 30 day comment period beginning on the day of Federal Register publication. That period is likely to be extended for an additional 15-30 days if not longer. EPA will then take public comment into consideration and will issue a Final Rule, which under ordinary circumstances takes up to a year, and for controversial rules could take considerably longer.
Legislation to repeal Florida Renewable Fuel Standard moves forward, but is amended at April 9 hearing. House Bill 4001, which would repeal the state’s Renewable Fuel Standard Act and end mandatory blending of ethanol into gasoline, was approved by two House committees in March, following a hearing held on March 22 by the Regulatory Affairs Committee of the Florida House of Representatives. Action has now moved to the State Senate, where companion bill Senate Bill 320 has been approved by the Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities, and was scheduled for a hearing before the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on April 9. The favorable votes on this legislation have come in spite of significant opposing testimony from renewable fuel companies, trade associations, and other allies.
In a more recent development, the Senate Bill was substantively amended at the April 9 Committee hearing. The original version of the bill would have repealed the sections that required gasoline sold in Florida to be blended with ethanol. In the amended version, these sections would not be repealed, but would be amended to “encourage” ethanol blending rather than require it. This amended bill, which cleared the Committee by a 7-0 vote, is still opposed by some within the Florida biofuel industry, although it is clearly less damaging than the original version of the bill. According to press reports, the Senate Committee was heading towards disapproving the original bill, and proposed this amendment as an alternative.
New Hampshire legislation to ban corn ethanol. As previously reported, House Bill 362, which would ban the use of “corn-based” ethanol in the state, was passed by the state House of Representatives on March 13. It is now before the State Senate, where a hearing is scheduled for April 10 before the Energy & Natural Resources Committee.
Maine ethanol legislation. As previously reported, there were four bills on fuel ethanol introduced in the Maine legislature this year. According to the Portland Press Herald, on March 28 the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources sent one of these bills, LD 453, to the full legislature. This bill would prohibit sale of gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol. The other bills were reported out of Committee with unfavorable recommendations for the full legislature. A date has not yet been set for action by the full House or Senate on any of these bills.
USDA grants available for blender pump installation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that will be accepting applications from gasoline retailers for grant funds to be used to install ethanol blender pumps. This is the third year that these grants, under the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), will be available. A gas station in Jackson, Nebraska is one of the recent recipients of these grants.
E85 News Briefs
- Sales of E85 in Minnesota declined 26% in 2012 relative to 2011, a drop that was attributed to the narrow price spread between E10 and E85.
- Sales of E85 and other alternative fuels are said to be strong in Wisconsin, where there are reportedly 124 stations selling E85.
Previous Biofuel Policy Watch posts on ethanol policy:
D. Glass Associates, Inc. is a consulting company specializing in government and regulatory support for renewable fuels and industrial biotechnology. David Glass, Ph.D. is a veteran of over thirty years in the biotechnology industry, with expertise in industrial biotechnology regulatory affairs, U.S. and international renewable fuels regulation, patents, technology licensing, and market and technology assessments. Dr. Glass also serves as director of regulatory affairs for Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. More information on D. Glass Associates’ government and regulatory consulting capabilities, and copies of some of Dr. Glass’s prior presentations on biofuels and biotechnology regulation, are available at www.slideshare.net/djglass99 and at www.dglassassociates.com. The views expressed in this blog are those of Dr. Glass and D. Glass Associates and do not represent the views of Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. or any other organization with which Dr. Glass is affiliated. Please visit our other blog, Advanced Biotechnology for Biofuels.