EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in Iowa Friday that if the Clean Air Act allows his agency to let E15 to be sold year round, then a waiver to do just that is certain to follow.
Speaking at a farm near Nevada, Iowa, Pruitt agreed with biofuels stakeholders that prohibiting the sale of E15 – a slightly higher blend of ethanol than E10, the most popular vehicle fuel in the country – during the summer “practically doesn’t make any sense.” To fix that issue, the biofuels industry has been pushing EPA to issue a waiver to the provision of the Clean Air Act blocking E15 sales during the summer. Pruitt says “it’s a legal question,” but that the agency will do it if the law allows.
“If the statute doesn’t allow us to do it, we’ll communicate that to Congress,” Pruitt said. “If the statute authorizes us to do it, we’ll do our job and provide the waiver.”
Biofuels groups have been adamant that the administration has the authority to make the change but haven’t been successful in pursuing the change administratively. Legislation to codify the change into law stalled earlier this year on Capitol Hill.
Pruitt also discussed the recently released Renewable Volume Obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard. He made a special note of the timely release that, when coupled with the point of obligation decision that was recently finalized, gives “clarity to the marketplace.”
“It was important that we provided answers and provided timely clarity,” Pruitt said.
The RVO’s called for more advanced biofuels (4.29 billion gallons) in 2018, but the same amount of biomass-based diesel (2.1 billion gallons) in 2019 that the Obama administration set last year for 2018.
Pruitt also made reference to being “excited” about potential ethanol exports that could happen if Mexico were to adopt “a statute similar to what we have domestically (the RFS), and that will further encourage exporting ethanol.”
Stakeholders in the room were glad to see Pruitt deliver on a timely RVO release, but mostly agreed that the agency can do more to promote higher biofuel blends. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Pruitt has spoken positively about the RFS.
“Pruitt repeated, ‘I’ve been hearing those numbers need to be higher,’ and I look forward to more conversations about that,” Northey said. “He was very open in listening and certainly allowed everyone to share their full thoughts…and said he wants to come back.”
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said he believes the EPA missed an opportunity to make a difference in the advanced biofuel numbers.
“I could even argue that the 2018 numbers will lead to less biodiesel demand than we had the right to expect, based on the rule last year,” Shaw said. “It cut cellulosic ethanol by seven percent. As an example, we have 12 plants in Iowa, poised and ready to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel fiber. Combined, in a year, they could make about 20 to 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol. That’s just the 12 plants in Iowa.”
Shaw, however, did give Pruitt credit for leaving room for 15 billion gallons of conventional biofuels in the RVOs.
“To be fair, that was not expected,” Shaw said. “We didn’t backpedal, so that was good.”
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