EPA Proposed Rule on Raising Ethanol Blend Percentage in Review Process

November 25, 2008 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

A higher blend level of 12-14 percent reportedly under review

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a notice of proposed rule making in the review process that would increase the percentage of ethanol that can be blended into motor fuel from the current 10 percent level to a proposed new level of 12 to 14 percent, contacts advise.

EPA officials or spokesmen would not comment on the specific percentages involved as the rulemaking process is still underway, but they confirmed that the agency is in the review process relative to its proposed rule to implement new provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). The proposed rule covers Renewable Fuels Standard changes which are being referred to as RFS2.

But other sources inform that one component of the RFS2 proposal is that it would increase the maximum allowable blend percentage on ethanol (other than high-level blends such as E85 that are restricted to flex-fuel vehicles) from the current 10 percent to a level of 12 percent to 14 percent.

EPA officials acknowledge that meeting the requirement of 11.1 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2009 (10.5 billion gallons of cornstarch-based ethanol, 0.5 billion gallons of biomass-based diesel such as biodiesel and 0.1 billion gallons of undifferentiated advanced biofuel, per the EISA) will be a tall order for the industry under the current rules, adding that increasing the blend percentage would certainly help in meeting the requirement.

There is some confusion on exactly where the RFS2 rule is in the process, as some say it is at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) while others say it is also under review and comment by agencies such as USDA and the Dept. of Energy.

Timing on when the RFS2 rule will be published is also unclear, as some contacts indicated they had expected it to have been released last week. But if the matter is either under interagency or OMB review, such a release timeline obviously was not on the mark.

"We intend to have this regulation out before the end of the Bush administration," an EPA official said.

This issue has been on the radar screen at EPA for some time. Ethanol proponents noted that EPA has been doing research on the safety of levels for a blend beyond 10 percent for over a year. They further believe that any environmental group court challenge would not prevail.

EPA Administration Stephen Johnson told Farm Journal media staff in May that his agency was exploring the blend percentage, noting his agency has to examine the matter carefully. "A very legitimate question is whether there is a possibility of a higher blend -- say 15 percent or 20 percent, or is there a different blend. This is not only for automobiles but we have a lot of other engines -- from a lawnmower to a weed whacker -- that also have to be taken into account. A number of people, including ourselves are evaluating that. Engine manufacturers, whether they be a car or lawnmower or other kind of off-road vehicle are also doing this analysis. We don't know whether the current engine design will allow a higher percent blend. So that is another important issue. Our role at EPA is to ensure that environment and public health are protected and the air quality standards are being met," Johnson said. "Of course the engine manufacturers and carmakers are looking at can you use this fuel in the vehicle and still have a valid warranty. Or does it cause other problems."

Comments: Clearly the issue of raising the blend percentage is at play and it appears headed for some type of an increase, but I am told it would not go beyond 14 percent. Contacts say an increase, while helping to meet the ethanol blend requirement of 10.5 billion gallons, would also aid the industry in dealing with the so-called blend wall.

Importantly, a key will be getting auto manufacturers to go along with an increased blend percentage in terms of it not affecting the warranty on cars/engines.

Timing on this also remains murky, although it appears to be moving slower than some have been signaling, especially if it is still in the review process involving OMB and other government agencies.

The RFS2 plan could be on an expedited 30-day comment period, or otherwise 60 days, with the rule likely to take effect within 90 days of publication in the Federal Register.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


Back to news


Spell Check

No comments have been posted to this News Article

Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by QTInfo.com
Brought to you by Beyer