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New E15 bill has backing of petroleum group

by Jared Strong

A newly introduced bill in the U.S. Senate that would permanently expand the summertime availability of blended gasoline with 15% ethanol appears to have the support of the country’s largest trade association for the oil and natural gas industries.

Those industries have historically opposed the expansion of E15 sales, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the unprecedented support might stem from new oil company investments in biofuels and a push from Midwestern governors for federal waivers for the fuels, which could lead to a patchwork of differing fuel regulations among states.

“This is something that even the oil industry is getting on board now,” Grassley told reporters on Wednesday. “That’s quite a shock to me that they would join the efforts of selling more ethanol.”

The American Petroleum Institute co-signed a letter to congressional leaders last week in support of summertime E15 sales. API joined other trade organizations that represent farmers, convenience stores, truck stops, and others in lobbying for the fuel.

“Our groups have come together — for the first time ever — to support legislation that would resolve this issue once and for all,” the letter said.

Ethanol is an important market for corn because more than half of the state’s crop is used to produce it.

An issue is a waiver for fuel volatility that has long been bestowed on 10% ethanol blends but not 15%. The fuel blends have an increased risk of vaporizing and polluting the atmosphere in warmer months.

In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a rule change that granted the waiver to E15. In 2021, a federal appeals court found that the agency lacks the authority to grant such a waiver.

Several Midwestern senators, including Grassley and Joni Ernst, also an Iowa Republican, supported a bill later in 2021 that would have codified the waiver for E15 in federal law, but it did not muster enough support to get a committee hearing, according to Senate records.

In April 2022, President Joe Biden said the EPA would allow the E15 sales for the summer as a means to help lower fuel prices. Also that month, Gov. Kim Reynolds and seven other governors requested waivers from the EPA specific to their states that would indefinitely allow summer E15 sales. Those requests are still pending.

In May 2022, Reynolds signed a new state law that will require most gas stations to sell E15 instead of E10. Smaller fueling stations are generally exempted from that requirement.

On Wednesday, Grassley and Ernst cosponsored the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act of 2022, which would extend the waiver to E15 for all states.

“This is exciting news and I encourage its quick passage through Congress so that it can be signed into law,” said Gov. Reynolds.

It’s unclear when the Senate might take action on the bill.

“Iowa farmers and consumers deserve certainty,” Grassley said.

He did not specify which oil company investments in biofuels might have spurred the API support of the bill, but Continental Resources, an Oklahoma oil and gas company, said it planned to contribute $250 million to Summit Carbon Solution’s proposed carbon dioxide pipeline, which would connect to ethanol plants in Iowa and neighboring states.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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