INDIANAPOLIS — The clock is ticking for the Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to give the green light to year-round E15 sales as fuel terminal operators start to make decisions on summer fuel deliveries to gas stations and convenience stores.
“It’s not just a switch they can turn on and off,” said Helena Jette.
As biofuels director for the Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Growers Association and Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Jette works with terminals and is familiar with the process for terminals to sell E15 and higher blends of ethanol to gas stations and convenience stores.
“A lot of those terminals are going to be making decisions in the next month whether or not they will be able to sell E15 this summer. They can’t just push a button and say, ‘Oh, we aren’t going to be able to sell this.’ They have to have some certainty in the market so they don’t feel like they will have to switch it out,” she said.
Letters from members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, across the country have been sent to President Joe Biden, urging him to direct the EPA to allow the year-round sale of E15. Members of Congress from the Midwest also have introduced legislation to require year-round sales of E15.
The most recent letter was sent March 31 and from a bipartisan group of House members. That letter asks Biden to reinstate the year-round sale of E15 via the EPA and it also asks the president to reverse course on proposed retroactive reductions to the 2020 and 2021 renewable volume obligations of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“We are just really wanting to have this not be an issue this summer and get some federal orders in place so we can get past this and allow those higher blends of ethanol into the states again,” Jette said.
Jette said the number of terminals supplying E15 to stations has grown from five to over 200 across the country.
In Indiana, E85 is available at over 400 fueling stations and E15 is available at around 100 fueling stations.
“With the horrible tragedies happening overseas, I think it has been eye-opening and a reminder for people in the United States to realize that we are not energy independent from foreign oil. But we do have a homegrown fuel, ethanol, that is in abundance and that we could utilize more. We are just trying to get over the EPA hurdles to make that fuel available year-round. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions, it hits on all the sustainability messages and climate, a lot of the things that this administration favors,” Jette said.
With E15 and higher ethanol blends being readily available in the Chicagoland area, Jette explained that area laps over into northwest Indiana.
“There are reformulated gas areas and there are conventional gas areas. In more densely-populated areas, like Chicago and northwest Indiana, they use a reformulated gas blend that allows E15 to be blended year-round because of the levels of air pollution,” Jette said.
Jette works with the Indiana Corn Marketing Council to offer grant funding for retail sites that want to install pumps and sell higher blends of ethanol. The uncertainty around E15 sales this summer has impacted that program, too.
“That has caused a little bit of a hiccup right now with the concern that, starting June 1, we’ll have to figure out a different option for the summer until Sept. 15,” Jette said.
The prohibition on selling E15 during the summer driving season starts June 1 and continues through Sept. 1.
“It is frustrating. The majority of Indiana is not considered to be in that reformulated gas market that Chicago and northwest Indiana is in. It makes no sense that in these polluted, more densely-populated areas, it’s OK to use higher blends of ethanol year round, but it’s not OK to use it in other parts of Indiana and Illinois,” Jette said.
Jette said terminal operators will be making decisions about summer fuel supplies in the next few weeks.
“There is a real sense of urgency for these decisions to be made,” she said.