Bill Sparks E15 Controversy

Indiana Legislature Passes Bill Requiring E15 Warning Labels

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The state of Indiana may require warning labels on E15 pumps if the state's governor signs a recently passed bill. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- State legislation that would slap a warning label on E15 pumps in Indiana is drawing outrage from a group of ethanol producers in the state and a national ethanol group, who have asked Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to veto the measure.

The governor has eight days from when he receives the bill to decide whether to sign or veto. If no action is taken during that time, a bill automatically becomes law, https://www.in.gov/….

SB 303 was passed by the legislature on April 1 and as of Tuesday had not been received by Holcomb. The legislation also includes changes to underground storage tanks and other infrastructure measures for E15.

Currently, the federal EPA is proposing to either modify the E15 label or remove the label requirement and seek comment on whether state and local governments may be pre-empted from requiring different labels on fuel dispensers, https://www.dtnpf.com/….

The Indiana E15 label would include the language: "Attention: E15. Check owner's manual for compatibility and warranty requirements" or a similar statement approved by EPA if the bill becomes law.

In a letter to Holcomb on Tuesday, Growth Energy Chief Executive Officer Emily Skor said the measure would make it difficult for farmers and ethanol producers in Indiana to benefit from E15.

"SB 303 seeks to limit sales of E15, a 15% ethanol fuel blend, by mandating unnecessary warning labels on E15 fuel dispensers that serve only to confuse consumers and add completely unnecessary redundancy to already burdensome federal labeling requirements," Skor writes.

"This legislation also muddies key regulations in a manipulative attempt to obstruct additional retailers from offering E15. By adding a needless label that conflicts with language already on federally required stickers, SB 303 directly threatens new markets key to revitalizing income for Hoosier farmers."

In a letter to Holcomb on April 1, nine ethanol plant officials in the state said the measure should be vetoed because the agriculture sector in Indiana needs an economic boost.

"Over the last year, the coronavirus pandemic has devastated our agricultural sector, wiping out demand for the biofuels that create a vital market for our farm suppliers," the officials said.

"Despite these headwinds, the men and women of our industry remain hard at work, and expanded markets for higher ethanol blends like E15 have been a bright spot for the rural recovery. Unfortunately, SB 303 would stall that recovery and threaten the income of Hoosier farmers, jobs for rural workers, and savings at the pump for Indiana motorists. Specifically, the bill would slap a new, cigarette-style warning label on E15 dispensers, sowing consumer confusion with language that conflicts with federal labels already required on each pump."

The letter is signed by officials from The Andersons, Cardinal Ethanol, CIE, Green Plains Inc., Iroquois Bio-Energy Company and Poet LLC.

The ethanol industry in Indiana supports about 15,500 jobs and adds about $3 billion to the state's economy. The industry officials said in the letter the expansion of E15 in Indiana has the potential to add demand for about 48 million bushels of corn annually.

"We cannot allow Indiana's leadership in biofuels to be derailed by this deeply flawed proposal, which was rammed through the legislature without considering any amendments from state leaders representing biofuel producers, and without any serious consideration of the consequences," the letter said.

Jeff Cummins, associate director of policy engagement at the Indiana Farm Bureau, told DTN adding such a warning label to the legislation was part of an overall compromise to garner wide support.

In order to have bipartisan support for changes to the state's Reid vapor pressure regulation to allow for year-round E15, Cummins said the farm bureau and a coalition of ag and biofuels groups working on the legislation agreed to allow some consumer protection such as a label.

The bill was filed in 2020 but didn't receive a hearing, Cummins said, because of a tight schedule and because the chairman of the Indiana Senate Environmental Affairs Committee Republican Mark Messmer "thought that there probably needed to be some consumer protection" efforts in the bill.

"From the first conversation it was kind of apparent that to move the underlying bill there would have to be a compromise to the label," Cummins said.

He added, "The ethanol producers very clearly were opposed to that in the beginning, but by majority the coalition was either supportive or neutral. We get the bill agreed to then we get it through the Senate and the first half of session without really any controversy. It's been here in the last interesting few weeks that it's turned into a five-alarm fire for some folks. So, [it] should be fairly innocuous labeled, although I understood concerns from others that it may have that deterrent effect (for consumers)."

Andy Tauer, director of public policy at the Indiana Farm Bureau, told DTN the final legislation included a number of other changes to state laws that may have been preventing gasoline retailers from expanding E15.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley