Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue told the House Agriculture Committee today that the Environmental Protection Agency won’t wrap up rulemaking for summertime E15 sales in time for the summer driving season. But the EPA isn’t so sure.

The situation began Wednesday when Perdue was appearing before the ag committee in a four-hour hearing covering everything from trade to rural broadband. But a mere few sentences got the attention of the EPA.

“Unfortunately, those rules probably will not be out for the driving season,” Perdue said.

He added the agency was looking into using “discretionary enforcement” to allow interested parties to still sell the fuel once the traditional June 1 cutoff date arrives without having to worry about EPA enforcement of the existing statute.

Later in the day, EPA said the current plan is to release a proposal to address the Reid Vapor Pressure Waiver needed for summer E15 sales and a measure to reform the Renewable Identification Number market that tracks compliance with the federal biofuel mandate in March. The agency says it is “working expeditiously to propose and finalize the rule consistent with the President’s direction before the start of the summer driving season.”

Speaking at USDA’s Washington headquarters to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said "we are working hard to get it done before summer driving season; please ignore reports we’re going to miss the summer driving season."

Later, Perdue posted a picture on Twitter with Wheeler and said he appreciated his efforts in “moving expeditiously to finalize E-15 rule before the start of summer driving season.”

Perdue also offered some clarification of his remarks to reporters, saying he was "surely hopeful" it'd be done by summer driving season.  He said Wheeler told him a couple of weeks ago that coming out of the shutdown it was "very doubtful," but the ag secretary said he feels Wheeler is "really pushing and driving his troops to get that done. Today, he told me it was very likely they could get it done and would do so if at all possible."

Under current law, E15 cannot be sold during the summer driving season – from the beginning of June to the middle of September – due to volatility concerns. The renewable fuels industry is seeking a RVP waiver to allow the fuel to be sold year-round.

National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett said the discretionary enforcement plans could “beg a question of how is that going to look to the public.” Plus, he, and many others in the industry, are frustrated the rulemaking is taking this long.

“The president promised this some time ago,” Doggett said. “This has been a promise he made during the campaign, made a promise early on in the administration. We’re now two plus years into the administration. This is something that should have been done a year ago at least.”

The dustup comes as Wheeler’s nomination to assume the full role of administrator (he’s been holding the position on an acting basis since July) works its way through the Senate. The chamber cleared a procedural vote on his nomination 52-46 Wednesday afternoon, clearing the way for a vote on final confirmation.

(Steve Davies contributed to this report.)

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