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EPA decision will mean more E15

By Jonathan Sweet

Late in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued its latest ruling on how much ethanol must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, finalizing the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume obligations.

The decision was a mixed bag of sorts for the boating industry, as the levels were not set as high as mandated in the original 2007 law, but still higher than many in the industry would like.

Boating Industry talked to Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of legal and federal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association about what the announcement means for the industry, and efforts going forward to reform the RFS.

This wasn’t a worst-case scenario, but it wasn’t everything the industry wanted. How should those in the industry feel about the decision?

Nicole Vasilaros

Nicole Vasilaros

Vasilaros: It means that more E15 is going to come to the marketplace. It definitely is a better scenario than the actual law mandates. The levels are a little bit lower than the law mandates, but higher than we wanted, higher than what was originally proposed back in 2014.

From our standpoint, we’re going to see more E15 come to the marketplace. There is some uncertainty about the availability of E0 as more and more ethanol is required to be blended into the fuel supply. [With that], manufacturers and suppliers are going to have less of an incentive to offer ethanol-free gasoline, which is what a lot of boaters really want/require/prefer to be honest.

The other really big focus is that it just shows we really need a legislative fix. EPA took some action to go below the mandated legal requirements. It was a small positive step, but they can only do so much.

It’s really getting back to the letter of the law and trying to reform the Renewable Fuel Standard as it is written.

Coming out with fuel volume requirements for 2014 and 2015 at the end of 2015 seems odd. Can you explain why something like this happens?

Vasilaros: This is obviously a very technical issue for the oil companies and manufacturers themselves. Those are the obligated parties that have to blend that requirement into the fuel supply.

The delays just show, as you know, in Washington, a broken system. They had been delayed for more than a year, then EPA came out with levels halfway through 2014 and there was a lot of pushback.

NMMA testing has shown the damage ethanol can cause to engine parts (top and bottom photo). Industry groups also continue to research alternatives to ethanol, such as biobutanol.

NMMA testing has shown the damage ethanol can cause to engine parts (top and bottom photo). Industry groups also continue to research alternatives to ethanol, such as biobutanol.

Our side, and those who believed that mandated levels should be lower, were pleased with the lowered amount, but there were corn producers and others that really pushed to have those levels higher.

It, unfortunately, just became part of the political process. It’s an agency that has been backlogged by this. It’s an agency that has not met its obligations. They’ve been sued by several oil companies because of the delays. I can only imagine planning for your obligations after your obligations are due.

It shows the broken system, and it shows the contentious nature of the issue as well.

Along those lines, what are some of the efforts NMMA is working on to get the law changed?

Vasilaros: Just a few weeks back, we had a letter that was circulated in the House of Representatives that had 184 signatures. This was a large showing, bipartisan members, leadership was on that, so there does seem to be a lot of momentum in the House itself to make some changes.

There are several bills … in both the House and the Senate that took some action either reforming or repealing the RFS.

That’s what we’re going to continue to do in 2016. It’s definitely been a point of discussion in presidential politics. Hopefully, it will be a little bit higher on the media radar post Iowa. Obviously, this is a very sensitive issue in an election year when Iowa goes first and has a big stake in ethanol and the RFS. But we are hearing presidential candidates talk about it and we hope that will hopefully be part of the election discussion. [Editor’s note: This interview took place before the Iowa caucuses in January.]

Are there any bills in particular that NMMA is supporting?

Vasilaros: On the House side, it’s been two bills that we’ve been supportive of by Congressman [Bob] Goodlatte. [Editor’s note: H.R. 703 and H.R. 704.] One bill is the reform and one bill is the repeal. We have always been for reform. NMMA is not opposed to ethanol in general. All of the engines that are built now and have been built for quite some time can handle E10, so we’re really looking for … capping us at E10.

Is it likely anything passes in 2016, or is it something that ends up happening after the election?

Vasilaros: The political realities of 2016 are that it’s going to be a very short legislative calendar, so it’s going to be hard to get something to rise to the top in the very short time they’re going to be here. I think that we will continue to push small changes.

A large reform or repeal bill will be difficult, but not impossible. We’re seeing momentum, particularly in the House, and that’s where we’ll continue to put our efforts.

 

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