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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulatory changes to allow gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol (E15) to take advantage of the 1-psi Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver for the summer months that has historically been applied only to E10.

The proposal on March 12 by the Environmental Protection Agency fulfills a pledge that President Donald Trump made to U.S. corn farmers, who see ethanol as an important driver of demand for their crops. Oil refineries have been seeking exemptions from government requirements to include ethanol in their fuel mixes.

Under the proposed expansion, E15 would be allowed to be sold year-round without additional RVP control, rather than just eight months of the year.

“Consistent with President Trump’s direction, EPA is working to propose and finalize these changes by the summer driving season,” said Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a  press release. “We will be holding a public hearing at the end of this month to gather important feedback.”

The dispute between the industry and farmers and lawmakers from Midwest states sparked a billboard campaign and at least one tractor rally in the Midwest last year.

Beyond increasing the amount of ethanol allowed in vehicle fuel, the EPA is proposing regulatory changes in the ethanol program.

Great progress before summer driving

Ag groups called the proposal "vital" and "great progress" in getting the rule in place before summer driving season. 

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the proposed rule is "one step closer to fulfilling the administration’s promise to support year-round E15 sales."

"As our country has worked to break our dependence on foreign oil, our farmers have played a major role in helping us become more energy independent," Duvall said in a press release. "After years of declining farm income, opening up markets to additional fuel choices will help create new demand that farmers desperately need.”

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National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson called the EPA proposal "vital."

“The move to expanded use of higher level blends of ethanol is absolutely vital at this moment in time. More E15 use means we can begin to dig into our massive oversupply of corn, lifting prices ever so slightly for all commodities," Johnson said in a press release."Farmers Union applauds EPA for releasing this proposed rule, and we look forward to helping the agency get this in effect by summertime."

Johnson pointed to the need to build on the achievement by expanding use of E30 gasoline. 

“The result would be a necessary boon for farm families stuck with low prices in a struggling farm economy and rural communities that are in need of economic rejuvenation," Johnson added. "It would also lead to cheaper gasoline prices, better performing engines, and significant climate gains for consumers. NFU urges federal policymakers to remove barriers to higher level blends of ethanol and work to encourage the continued growth of the American biofuels industry.”

National Corn Growers Association President Lynn Chrisp called the proposal great progress in getting the rule in place before the summer driving season starts. 

“NCGA appreciates EPA’s efforts to meet this deadline," Chrisp said. “Allowing year-round sales of higher blends of ethanol not only grows a domestic market for farmers, but E15 gives consumers more choice at the pump, a lower price option and greater environmental benefits from a cleaner fuel. It’s time to remove the barrier to all of these benefits.”

The proposed rule put the EPA a step closer to making good on Trump's promise for year-round E15 sales, according to Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President and CEO Geoff Cooper.

“With just 80 days left before the start of the summer driving season, finalizing and implementing the E15 regulatory fix remains a tall order," Cooper said in a press release. "That is why we have urged EPA to separate the year-round E15 provisions from the RIN reform provisions, and move forward as quickly as possible to finalize a practical and defensible year-round E15 solution. With ethanol plants shutting down or idling and farmers experiencing the worst conditions in more than a decade, removing the summertime ban on E15 once and for all would send a desperately needed signal to the marketplace."

Background

Federal law for more than a decade has mandated that oil refineries mix ethanol into their fuel. The Trump administration's former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, had angered lawmakers, growers and ethanol processors in Iowa and other key election states by granting a spate of exemptions sparing refineries from that mandate.

On October 11, President Trump directed the EPA to initiate a rulemaking to expand waivers for E15 and increase the transparency in the RIN market.

Environmental groups contend the U.S. Clean Air Act prohibits year-round sales of E15, and court challenges are expected.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or carol.spaeth-bauer@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/carol.spaethbauer.

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