Two major players in the energy space are in talks with a key Capitol Hill Republican on legislation that would allow sales of higher ethanol blends to continue unimpeded by current summer fuel volatility restrictions.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., tells Agri-Pulse she will offer specifics on the bill in the coming weeks, but said following conversations with “biofuels producers, oil refiners, and other energy stakeholders, I’m proud to say that we’ve put together a clear path forward on year-round E15.

“This deal represents a major win for our energy security, agricultural producers around the country, and consumers at the pump,” she added. “A federal solution will also end years of regulatory uncertainty for the fuel sector.” 

Gasoline containing a 15% ethanol blend cannot be sold from June through September due to Reid Vapor Pressure requirements written into the Clean Air Act. The issue has been a politically active one in recent years with the Trump administration issuing waivers to sell the fuel during the summers of 2019 and 2020, a court striking down that waiver authority in the summer of 2021, and the Biden administration using emergency authority to allow the fuel to be sold during the summer of 2022.

The groups at the table with Fischer include the American Petroleum Institute and the Renewable Fuels Association, two organizations that are often at opposite ends of the renewable fuels policy spectrum. But the prospect of a handful of Midwestern governors receiving regulatory relief that would allow for summertime E15 sales in their states has some in the oil industry looking for a solution.

“While we recognize a growing role for E15 in the marketplace, a state-by-state approach would create a boutique fuel market in the Midwest and may negatively impact the reliability of gasoline supply to the region,” Will Hupman, API’s vice president of downstream policy, said in a statement. “To provide certainty and protect consumers, we urge Congress to pass legislation that allows for the year-round sale of E15 nationwide, cancels the pending requests from the Midwest states, and preserves access to lower ethanol gasoline blends.”

In April, eight Midwestern states petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to allow retailers in their states — Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin — to sell E15 during the summer under a provision of the CAA that allows states to request RVP waivers.

In June, Ohio joined that group to becomes the ninth state pursuing the relief. The request is awaiting official EPA action, but Administrator Michael Regan said in September he anticipated the agency “will have it done in time for the 2023 ozone season.”

RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said the organization is backing the governors while it pursues a national fix with API and Fischer.

“A nationwide solution would make a state-by-state approach unnecessary, and it would permanently resolve a perennial challenge facing the fuel supply chain and consumers alike,” he said in a statement. “It would ensure uniformity in the nation’s fuel supply and provide retailers and distributors with the certainty they need to deliver on carbon reduction plans and avoid added cost to consumers.

“But until such a nationwide solution is solidly in place, we will continue to support those governors who have taken the initiative to solve this problem for their states’ consumers,” Cooper added.

This is not the first time Fischer has worked on legislation to allow summer E15 sales.

In 2021, she joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., on the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act; companion legislation was also introduced in the House. That bill has not received broad consideration in the upper chamber, but a bill Fischer introduced in 2017 received a hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, though it failed to move beyond the panel.

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Talk of a deal between Fischer, RFA and API currently lacks legislative text as well as the public backing of other groups in the oil space. Biofuel groups including the National Corn Growers Association and Growth Energy offered statements to Agri-Pulse.

“We are very supportive of Sen. Fischer’s efforts, which would ensure nationwide consumer access to higher blends of this safe, clean and affordable fuel that improves our nation’s energy security,” NCGA President Tom Haag said in a statement.

Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said figuring out the year-round sales path for E15 is “a top priority for Growth Energy and our champions in Congress who have been fighting for lower-cost, lower-carbon options at the fuel pump.

“The emergency waiver this summer helped showcase E15's ability to deliver immediate results for consumers, energy security, and the climate, and we're encouraged that legislative momentum for a permanent fix continues to grow,” she added. “Growth Energy has been working closely with state and federal leaders to move forward on a range of solutions, and we will continue to explore every avenue to give our retail partners the certainly they need ahead of next summer's driving season.”

A spokesperson for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers did not respond to a request for comment.

Story updated to include NCGA and Growth Energy statements.

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