By TIM ALEXANDER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reaction to the news that the D.C. Court of Appeals had reversed a 2019 ruling that allowed for year-round sales of E15 corn-based ethanol was swift and severe from farmers and renewable fuels proponents.
The reversal, which was handed down on July 2, caught many farm organization leaders and more than a few lawmakers by surprise. The case, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, et. al. vs. EPA, was brought by Big Oil refiners in an effort to derail the sale of 15 percent ethanol fuel blends and increase America’s dependence on foreign, fossil-based transportation fuels according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), which issued a joint statement expressing disappointment with the court’s ruling.
“We disagree with the court’s decision to reject EPA’s move to expand the RVP waiver to include E15, a decision that could deprive American drivers of lower-carbon options at the pump and would result in more carbon in the atmosphere,” the statement reads, in part. “We are pursuing all available options and will work with the administration and our congressional champions to ensure that we have a solution in place before the 2022 driving season.”
The controversy began in June 2019 when, after finding E15 to be substantially similar to E10 certification fuel, EPA extended a volatility waiver to the fuel additive, effectively allowing for the sale of E15 fuels year-round. After oil refiners filed a lawsuit challenging the move, the three-judge D.C. Court of Appeals ruled last week that EPA exceeded its authority when allowing sales all year.
The ensuing onslaught of objections to the reversal included statements from agricultural leaders in corn growing states, along with lawmakers in support of farmers and renewable fuel options for American motorists.
“The Circuit Court decision on E15 is a huge blow to Illinois farmers and continued demand growth for ethanol-blended fuels across the nation,” said Richard Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president. “Ethanol provides tremendous value to American consumers to help offset carbon emissions through cleaner, homegrown fuel options.”
“The Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) is very disappointed in this Circuit Court decision because it will slow the growth and opportunity for E15 and that means reduced market opportunity for Illinois corn farmers,” added Randy DeSutter, ICGA president. “This decision will also have a huge impact for everyone else in our world, farmer and non-farmer alike.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the D.C. court’s ruling leaves the ethanol lobby with little to show from four years of advocacy by the Trump administration. “It fully throws out a deal that the Trump administration had framed as its compromise between refiners and farmers, two big Republican allies that have long fought over federal mandates for adding corn-based, or ‘renewable fuel,’ to gasoline,” according to the Journal.
Republican and Democrat lawmakers who supported the 2019 court ruling, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassely, took to Twitter and other social media outlets to post their shock and outrage at the reversal. “Trump made (the) right decision to allow E15 year round which gave consumers (a) choice at the pump if they want to use E15 or not. Higher blend ethanol is better for (the) environment. I won’t stop fighting for biofuels parity against Big Oil,” Grassley tweeted.
“I am deeply disappointed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling today to roll back the previous administration’s expansion of the RVP waiver for E15,” said Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), who in 2019 introduced legislation intended to clarify EPA’s authority to provide a RVP waiver for E15 by requiring the agency to do so. “It defies logic that the EPA could not use its statutory authority to provide a waiver for E10, but not provide one for E15, which has a lower PSI than E10.”
Rep. Joni Ernst (R-IA) added: “Today’s decision by the DC Circuit Court is yet another disappointment to Iowa’s hardworking farmers and biofuel producers.”
The reversal is the second blow issued to the renewable fuels industry since June 25, when the Supreme Court ruled that small refineries should have the right to obtain exemptions from minimum blend requirements established by Congress through the Renewable Fuels Standard Act. As for the July 2 reversal, Growth Energy, the RFA and NCGA believe the action could reduce summertime E15 sales by as much as 90 percent in non-reformulated gasoline areas if those markets were to disappear.
University of Illinois agricultural economist Scott Irwin agreed the ruling would likely inflict long term impacts on the renewable fuels industry. He issued a warning regarding E15’s future: “I think it is important to keep some perspective on the market impact of this ruling. It is really about the potential for future growth of E15 rather than a big hit on current demand for ethanol in the form of E15.”