Renewable fuel interests have gained a powerful new ally for one of their legacy priorities, but stiff opposition could still stall any potential resolution.

The American Petroleum Institute joined 11 other oil, biofuel and retail groups Tuesday in a letter to Congress asking for legislation that would allow for national year-round sales of E15. The inclusion of oil groups is a new development after years of lobbying for federal legislation to make a technical fix in the Clean Air Act and follows talks reported earlier this month.

Specifically, the coalition is calling for passage of a bill to change Reid Vapor Pressure language that currently keeps E15 from being sold due to fuel volatility issues. Currently, the law extends an RVP waiver to fuel blends of 10% ethanol, a limitation upheld in 2021 when an appeals court struck down a Trump administration waiver for summer months. The Biden administration allowed the fuel to be sold in the summer of 2022 under emergency waiver authority.

Now, nine Midwestern governors have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to allow the fuel to be sold within their borders, creating concern for oil companies and an opportunity for biofuels groups. In response, the 12 groups say a national legislative fix is needed.

“In the absence of such legislation, we could see gasoline marketplace uncertainty and political disputes over E15 continue to resurface every summer. Thus, we urge Congress to act quickly to adopt legislation that will bring certainty and consistency to the fuel market, while also finally resolving long-standing differences among many stakeholders about fuel volatility regulations,” the groups say in their letter to House and Senate leaders.

The action by the governors no doubt brought API to the table as it sounded the alarm about a potential Midwestern “boutique fuel market” if the governor’s petition moves forward. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has previously committed to addressing the petition in time for summer 2023, a timeline that biofuel industry sources tell Agri-Pulse is still on track to be met.

“Getting the American Petroleum Institute to be on board with nationwide E15 is a big damn deal, and I think the expectation is that API is going to bring some support that we haven’t been able to generate for this,” Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

“I think that’s a formidable ad-,” Jennings said before stopping himself. “I about called them an adversary because they typically are – but that’s a formidable ally to have on your side.”

API represents some of the nation’s largest oil companies and indeed is a huge ally in the E15 fight. Congress would be much more willing to quickly move a legislative fix if opposite ends of the spectrum are on the same page, but other oil groups – including the powerful American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers – have yet to take a stance on the issue, and their opposition could pose a roadblock to passage during the lame duck session. An AFPM spokesperson says the group is “still reviewing the policy” and has yet to take a position.

“There are differences of opinion within the refining sector on how to proceed, but getting one of their major trade associations to support a nationwide RVP fix … we think is a positive step forward,” Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, toldAgri-Pulse.

Geoff CooperGeoff Cooper, RFAAPI and RFA have been in talks with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., on what legislation could look like to address the issue; the current bills introduced by Fischer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., in the Senate and House Biofuels Caucus leaders Reps. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and Angie Craig, D-Minn., aren’t seen as the text that the coalition will ultimately back. Legislative negotiations can sometimes produce tradeoffs unpalatable to one side of the conversation, but Cooper says that hasn’t happened in this case. 

Aside from the so-called “big four” House and Senate party leaders, the letter was also sent to Fischer, Klobuchar, Smith and Craig as well as the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Environment and Public Works committees, which have jurisdiction over the issue.

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Cooper said the coalition is currently eyeing congressional action before the end of the year.

“We’re hopeful and think there may be an outside chance that we might get some resolution on that during the lame duck, we’re at least going to give it our best shot,” he said. “But failing that, we’ll certainly be prioritizing a legislative solution for RVP in the new Congress as well.” 

But as the industry well knows, moving this issue legislatively has its hurdles. In 2017, Fischer was able to secure a committee hearing on a bill to address the E15 sales barrier but ultimately didn’t have the votes to advance the bill out of committee or through the Senate. The House passed a bill earlier this year that contained a sweeping array of changes aimed at addressing food and fuel prices including an E15 waiver, but the legislation has not been considered in the Senate.  

“I think everybody on the biofuels side and even broader supports a nationwide solution on year-round sale of higher blends. That’s very clear,” Growth Energy lobbyist Chris Bliley told Agri-Pulse. “Trying to get something that should be relatively simple through the legislative process is the hard part.”

For his part, Smith said in a statement to Agri-Pulse that the “broad support for year-round E-15 in Congress and across industries further underscores the need to get this across the finish line.”

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