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EPA Details Legal Avenues for E15 Sales Today

March 29, 2011


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted a partial waiver for the use of E15 (15% ethanol/85% gasoline) in cars, pickups and SUVs from model year 2001 and newer.  That decision has sparked a firestorm of criticism and a fair amount of confusion.  While much of the criticism comes from industries with a profit motive to oppose renewable fuels, some of the confusion is understandable. On March 24, the EPA ent a letter to leading stakeholders in the gasoline and ethanol industry to clarify what is legal and what isn't legal at this time regarding the sale of E15 blends.  For instance, it still remains illegal to sell anything more than an E10 blend to gasoline-only vehicles and engines.  However, it is quite legal to offer any ethanol blend from E11 to E85 through approved pumps that are properly labeled for use with Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) designed to use higher ethanol blends.  Much of EPA's direction echoes the advice and counsel the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has provided to its members and gasoline marketers that work with our producer members. The letter was sent to leaders at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America (SIGMA), the Petroleum Marketers Association of America (PMAA), and the RFA. According to the EPA letter:  "EPA has granted conditional waivers to allow the use of gasoline containing between 10% and 15% ethanol (E 15) in model year 2001 and newer light-duty motor vehicles. The conditions associated with EPA's waivers, however, have not yet been satisfied. Thus, the Clean Air Act (Act) currently prohibits the sale of gasoline containing more than 10% ethanol for use in gasoline-only vehicles and engines.  Selling E15 gasoline for use in certain gasoline-only vehicles and engines will only become legal when the waivers' conditions, including the elements discussed below, are met." EPA cites misfueling concerns and the ongoing label development for E15 use in vehicles included in the approved range.  The RFA has worked with many of the groups on the EPA letter in support of the Renewable Fuels Marketing Act introduced during the last Congress and designed to mitigate misfueling concerns for retailers. As for the sale of E15 or any mid-level ethanol blend (MLEB) through approved equipment with the proper label for use, EPA reiterates such sales are well within the law. EPA writes:  "The [Clean Air] Act does not, however, prohibit retail gasoline stations from selling gasoline blended with up to 85% ethanol for use in flexible-fueled vehicles or engines, and it does not prohibit the sale of gasoline containing up to 10% ethanol for use in gasoline-only vehicles and engines." The letter also provides some guidance for retailers to appropriately sell ethanol blends.