A new Renewable Fuels Association analysis found that approximately 500 million gallons of E15 were sold nationwide in 2019, setting a new record and proving that the Trump administration’s elimination last summer of an obsolete regulatory barrier is working. However, sales would have been even stronger if not for the Renewable Fuel Standard compliance exemptions granted by EPA to dozens of refineries.
E15 sales in Minnesota—the only state that tracks monthly purchases of higher ethanol blends—increased by nearly a third in 2019, compared to 2018. The review by RFA Chief Economist Scott Richman extrapolated the Minnesota data nationally, finding that 499 million gallons of E15—containing 75 million gallons of ethanol—were sold across the country in 2019.
Prior to 2019, sales of E15 had been prohibited each year during the summer months in areas where conventional gasoline is sold. In May 2019, the EPA allowed E15 to be sold year-round by extending to it the vapor-pressure waiver that was already available for E10 blends.
As good as this news is for the ethanol industry, the data also suggest something else: The impact of small refinery waivers under the RFS definitely took a toll. On a per-station basis, sales of E15 were actually lower in the first several months of 2019 than during the same period in 2018. What changed? The EPA granted numerous RFS exemptions to small refineries, causing the price of RFS compliance credits (RINs) to plummet. Low RIN prices diminished the incentive for retailers to offer blends with higher ethanol content and reduced their ability to discount higher blends relative to gasoline.