Editor's Note: This article was originally posted at 1:46 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, Feb. 27. It was updated with additional information at 9:10 a.m. CDT on Thursday, Feb. 28.
OMAHA (DTN) -- The EPA may not complete a final rule to allow year-round E15 in time for the summer driving season, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.
The agency already faced a tight timeline to complete the rule, which was complicated by the recent partial government shutdown. Still, EPA has been saying publicly it was on track to finish the rule by June 1.
After testifying, Perdue sought to take a step back from his testimony. He sent out a tweet Wednesday with a photo of himself and Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler at USDA basically suggesting EPA would get the E15 rule done before the summer begins. "Great seeing @EPAAWheeler here at @USDA. Appreciate him moving expeditiously to finalize E-15 rule before the start of summer driving season," Perdue tweeted.
The Renewable Fuels Association had been pressing EPA to propose two rules separately -- potential reforms to the biofuels credits market and E15. The agency continues to work on a single rule for both.
Following a speech to the ethanol industry at the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Florida, earlier in February, USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky said his agency had approached EPA and suggested if the rule isn't completed in time, EPA could use discretion in restricting E15 use come June 1.
"We really do need -- and again EPA is still working hard and is very committed to getting a final rule in place and having that announced so that can be in place for the summer driving season to allow year-round sales of E15 -- but in the event that they aren't, I know that's one of the things of using enforcement discretion or announcing that the EPA is not going to be forcing folks (to stop selling E15 in several states) and that the retailers are not in danger of having enforcement actions taken against them," Censky said.
Ethanol and gasoline are both low volatility. When the two fuels are mixed, the volatility spikes, but only at blends just below E10. As more ethanol is blended with gasoline, the vapor pressure decreases, which essentially means E15 reduces vapor pressure.
For years, the ethanol industry has called on the EPA to equalize the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) regulations for E10 and E15 during the summer driving season. Because of those requirements, E15 has largely not been available to some wholesale suppliers and retailers during the summer. The industry has contended that adding 5% more ethanol in the summer would actually reduce tailpipe emissions.
Ethanol increases the RVP, which measures the release of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. The RVP for gasoline is the lowest, or most stringent, during the summer months when the weather is hot. E10 currently receives an RVP waiver, which keeps the fuel in compliance with RVP requirements year-round. However, E15 is not given the same waiver, so it can't be sold in the summer.
The EPA regulates RVP for gasoline and gasoline-ethanol blended from June 1 to Sept. 15, restricting the retail sale of ethanol blends above E10.
RFA President and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Cooper said in a statement on Wednesday that Perdue's comments are disappointing.
"We were very disappointed to hear that the regulatory fix allowing year-round E15 may not be completed by the beginning of the summer driving season," Cooper said.
"The American ethanol industry and farmers across the country have suffered greatly as a result of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's efforts to destroy demand for renewable fuels and undermine the effectiveness of the Renewable Fuel Standard. That is why President Trump's promise last October to allow year-round sales of E15 by this summer was met with such enthusiasm and appreciation, and why the suggestion today that EPA will break that promise represents such a gut punch, if it is indeed true."
Cooper said in a statement that he believes the delay is a result of EPA attempting to include both actions in a single rulemaking.
"We have no doubt that the so-called 'RIN reforms' sought by oil refiners are bogging this rulemaking down. Thus, I reiterate the request we formally made last month to split RIN reform and year-round E15 into two separate rulemakings and expedite the E15 rule," he said.
Trump announced during an October 2018 rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, that his administration was ready to "unleash the power of E15."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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