By Jack Phillips
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued an emergency nationwide waiver that allows for the sale of gasoline with higher concentrations of ethanol during the summer driving season.
It’s the second year in a row that the EPA issued such an emergency rule allowing the sale of E15 gasoline, which has an ethanol content of 15 percent. The move is designed to lower gas prices for some motorists as Friday’s American Automobile Association data shows prices are slowly on the rise nationwide over the past month or so.
“Allowing E15 sales during the summer driving season will not only help increase fuel supply, but support American farmers, strengthen U.S. energy security, and provide relief to drivers across the country,” EPA Administration Michael Regan said in a statement, adding that the move is designed to “[protect] Americans from fuel supply challenges resulting from the ongoing war in Ukraine by ensuring consumers have more choices at the pump.”
Normally, federal anti-smog rules bar sales of E15 from being sold between June 1 and Sept. 15 across much of the United States. The EPA’s announcement temporarily removes that regulation.
Adding ethanol to gasoline is known to increase smog pollution in hot weather, but the EPA said it does not expect the move to have a significant impact on emissions.
U.S. gasoline prices at the pump averaged about $3.63 a gallon on Friday, versus $4.14 a gallon a year ago, data from the American Automobile Association showed. However, prices have increased by about 20 cents over the past four weeks or so, according to the data.
The federal agency estimates that E15 is on average about 25 cents a gallon cheaper than E10, the widely available 87 octane gasoline, according to Friday’s statement. Last year, the Biden administration issued a similar waiver as part of a series of measures to help address historically high gasoline prices.
The EPA said the “fuel waiver will go into effect on May 1 when terminal operators would otherwise no longer be able to sell E15 in the affected regions of the country and will last through May 20 which is the statutory maximum of 20 days.” After that, the agency said it will monitor the supply and “expects to issue new waivers effectively extending the emergency fuel waiver.”
While several renewable energy and biofuel organizations lauded the move, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers criticized the EPA’s decision.
“The U.S. market is well supplied with gasoline, which EIA data make clear,” said American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers President Chet Thompson told Reuters. “Therefore, we’re anxious to see how EPA is going to justify this decision.”
There have been warnings issued by various automotive groups and websites over the past decade or so and claims that E15 fuel can be corrosive to certain metal and rubber engine components. AAA issued a notice in 2012 about the gas, calling on retailers to stop selling the fuel because it would void the warranties on some vehicles.
However, the EPA, for years, has said the fuel is fine to use in most gasoline-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs made in the year 2001 or later.
E15, also known as unleaded 88, isn’t recommended for use in motorcycles, school buses, delivery trucks, snowmobiles, boats, chainsaws, and lawnmowers, according to the EPA’s website. It also recommends that drivers of cars, trucks, and other vehicles with the model year 2000 or earlier shouldn’t use the fuel.
In 2021, the American Motorcyclist Association filed a lawsuit against the EPA over its E15 policies and argued “that fuel blends containing more than the standard 10 percent ethanol” have “damaged engines and exhaust systems,” according to a statement from the group.
Alex Knizek, an auto engineer at Consumer Reports, told his own website last year that E15 can cause vehicles to have poorer gas mileage.
“I went into Consumer Reports’ garage and looked at two random cars we had—a 2022 Hyundai and a 2023 Acura. Both of those manuals said 15 percent ethanol is the maximum percentage you should be putting into those cars,” he said. “And another thing to remember is that ethanol isn’t as energy dense as regular gasoline so you will see worse fuel economy with E15 gas.”
Reuters contributed to this report.