OMAHA (DTN) -- E15's move to year-round availability starting next year likely will face two potential barriers: the EPA's legal authority to make the move and a tight timeline set out by the agency.
Ethanol industry leaders and other experts told reporters on Thursday they believe science supports E15 -- a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline -- as good for the environment. But they said they continue to have concern about whether the EPA can complete a rulemaking in time for the June 2019 driving season.
The agency announced recently that it plans to release a proposed rule in February 2019 with finalization coming by the end of May 2019.
Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper said the EPA could expedite the rule for an earlier release.
"It is a very short window," he said during a teleconference. "It doesn't give EPA a whole lot of wiggle room to get this done. It's going to take pedal to the metal to make that happen."
The agency has been studying the E15 issue for years, and Cooper said the EPA "has the ability to build an airtight case."
If the EPA releases the proposed rule in February and it is subject to a public-comment period, the agency essentially would have just weeks to finalize a rule that is likely to draw many thousands of comments.
Shortly after President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 9 that he was directing the EPA to launch an E15 rulemaking, a couple of gasoline retailers announced plans to expand E15 availability. Cooper said other retailers are waiting to see if EPA can get the job done.
"The next step is seeing the actual proposal," he said. "We would very much like to see the proposal out sooner than February. We think EPA can expedite the rule. As the process unfolds, we'll coax more of those retailers off the sidelines and get them in the ballgame here."
Matt Morrison, an attorney who represents the RFA, said he shared concern about the timing with EPA.
"Depending on the path chosen, it could be a very tight finish to be done by next driving season," he said.
E15 LEGAL QUESTIONS
Morrison, who worked for EPA as acting director and associate director of the air enforcement division in the agency's office of civil enforcement, said he has studied the E15 legal questions. Petroleum interests have stated publicly they intend to sue the EPA if the E15 rule is finalized.
"After analyzing this, it not only has legal authority but it would be consistent with the (Clean Air Act) statute and legislation," he said.
Congress expressly wrote provisions in the CAA to allow for ethanol in gasoline in summer months, Morrison said. Right now E15 sales are restricted between June and September in many areas of the country.
"The answer is pretty clear that it extends to E15," he said.
Petroleum interests and others that oppose year-round E15 sales have been undertaking a public relations campaign. Part of that includes allegations that E15 harms engines and would increase harmful emissions.
Gary Herwick, who worked as an engineer and emissions expert for General Motors for 35 years, was involved in conducting studies on mid-level ethanol blends in 2010 to 2011.
"It was clear there were no effects on vehicles in the model years we studied," he said.
The EPA rule would grant E15 a Reid vapor pressure, or RVP, waiver to allow for year-round sales. The RVP essentially is a measure of fuel volatility.
"E15 volatility is the same as E10," Herwick said. "There really isn't a basis for any of this."
Opponents of E15 have suggested that allowing year-round sales would generate more smog-causing, ozone-depleting pollution.
Janet Yanowitz, an engineer with Ecoengineering, Inc., said those concerns are not backed by science.
"There is no evidence E15 will increase tailpipe emissions," she said. "It is the reason we have oxygenated fuels in the first place -- to reduce carbon monoxide. I don't know where the discussion in the media comes from."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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