Senators pressed EPA Administrator Michael Regan on Wednesday to expand use of E15 in the nation’s fuel supply to combat rising energy prices.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., urged Regan to allow use of E15 year-round, as has been requested by numerous lawmakers and the biofuels industry. 

“We are currently evaluating what flexibilities we have around E15,” Regan said. “This is a conversation that I and (Agriculture) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack have been having quite a bit as of late, so I can tell you that we are evaluating what Clean Air Act authorities we have.”

“I do believe E15 can provide a less expensive option based on the data we have seen of late,” Regan told the committee, which was focused on EPA’s budget request for $11.88 billion in fiscal 2023, a $2.6 billion, or 28%, increase from the fiscal 2022 level.

At the same time, he said, “Whether it’s E15 or RVOs, we need to have a comprehensive approach to alleviating our dependence on oil,” referring to the annual Renewable Volume Obligation setting the amount of ethanol to be blended with gasoline.

Regan also said he believes the agency is “finally on a path to stabilize the [Renewable Fuel Standard] program” as it develops the RVOs for fiscal 2023 and beyond. The biofuels industry and its supporters were critical of the agency’s announcement earlier this year that it was extending RFS compliance deadlines for fiscal years 2020-2022.

On a subject closely watched by the ag industry, the definition of “waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act, Regan said the agency would be gathering input from a series of regional roundtables. The agency has proposed returning to pre-2015 CWA regulations as it works to craft a new, more permanent rule.

That effort has been complicated by the Supreme Court’s decision to take on the issue in a case that will be argued sometime this year, involving the scope of EPA’s authority to regulate wetlands.

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“We don't want to spend resources on efforts that would have to be changed later on,” Ernst said, adding she would like to see EPA hold a roundtable in Iowa. Regan said he’d get back to her on that. In February, EPA announced there would be 10 regional roundtables this spring and summer, but it has yet to set the dates and locations.

Regan said the agency, which is working on WOTUS with the Army Corps of Engineers, is “still on a path to produce some certainty while we see what plays out in the Supreme Court.” 

Regan mostly received a warm reception from the panel, but Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, criticized the administration – though not Regan – for “targeting” his state through executive orders and regulatory actions shutting down resource development. He asked for a hearing on Alaskan issues before the committee, which EPW Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said he would be willing to discuss.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., voiced frustration with the slow pace of rulemaking to address greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of industries, including the power sector.

Regan said the agency’s employees are working nights and weekends to deal with a laundry list of responsibilities. EPA asked for authority to hire 1,900 more employees in its fiscal year 2023 request.

“We’re making a significant ask for resources,” he said. “We can’t dig ourselves out of this hole overnight,” he added, referring to the loss of about 1,000 employees during the Trump administration.

The committee's top Republican, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., asked Regan to provide information on how the United States plans to cut GHG emissions in half by 2030.

“It has now been 343 days, almost a year, since you committed to sending information on the Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC, to this committee, and you have not sent any information,” she said in her opening statement.

“The American people and Congress still do not know how this administration plans to meet its climate goals of 50%-52% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030, and what it might mean for their jobs, energy costs, and the prices of goods and services during a time of already historic inflation,” Capito said.

Regan said in his testimony that the budget request includes $773 million “towards tackling the climate crisis and reaping the benefits that come with it.”

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