US Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced the Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act. The bill would amend the Clean Air Act to extend the Reid vapor pressure (RVP) waiver to ethanol blends above 10%. This would increase market access opportunities for higher blends of ethanol by allowing retailers across the country to sell E15 and other higher-ethanol/gasoline fuel blends year-round, the Senators said.
RVP is a common measure of and generic term for gasoline volatility. Each year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates RVP for gasoline and gasoline-ethanol blended during the summer ozone season from 1 June until 15 September. The purpose of the regulation is to reduce evaporative emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that contribute to ground-level ozone.
During these months, gasoline RVP may not exceed 9.0 psi in “volatility attainment areas” or 7.8 psi in “non-attainment areas.” However, EPA currently provides a 1.0 psi RVP allowance (the waiver) for gasoline containing ethanol at 9 to 10 vol %—i.e., the ethanol blend can exceed the applicable standard by 1.0 psi. This amount corresponds approximately to the increase in RVP when 10% ethanol is splash-blended with gasoline. Absent the waiver, the underlying gasoline blendstock would require a lower initial RVP to stay below the statutory maximum. A lower RVP blendstock would be more expensive.
In June 2011, EPA approved blends of 15 vol % ethanol in gasoline for use in model year 2001 and newer passenger cars, light-trucks and medium-duty vehicles. However, the current ethanol RVP waiver does not apply to the higher blend percentage.
At that time, EPA noted that the impact of E15 on overall evaporative emissions, including both immediate and durability-related, would not cause or contribute to light-duty vehicles exceeding applicable evaporative emissions standards, so long as the final fuel does not exceed a Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of 9.0 psi in the summertime volatility control season. Absent the waiver, however, this would likely entail moving to a more costly, lower RVP blendstock.
Under the current regulations, then, retailers are forced to change fuels or labeling during the summer fueling season. As a result, the Senators said, retailers often choose not to sell higher ethanol blends, such as E15, since they can only sell these products mid-September until May. The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act would thus allow retailers to sell E15 year round.