Respecting the Law

FROM THE FEBRUARY ISSUE: David Hallberg discusses the U.S. Department of Energy's adherence to laws, and a proposal from the Urban Air Initiative to escape the aromatics dilemma.
By David Hallberg | January 18, 2018

Since taking office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has been very clear about his role when it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard. “My responsibility as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is to faithfully administer the laws passed by the U.S. Congress. This agency must and will respect those laws.”

Subsequently, EPA issued its final volume obligations under the RFS, and Pruitt, although the biodiesel and advanced categories are subject to debate, was true to his word. In general, the law was respected and that's good news. Hopefully Pruitt has established a precedent that will apply to one of the most important, yet ignored provisions of the Clean Air Act, which is the control of air toxics. Section 202(l) of the CAA requires EPA to regulate, to the greatest degree achievable, aromatic compounds in gasoline, which are produced in increasing volumes to meet the demand for octane.

In 2017, the U.S. consumed more than 140 billion gallons of gasoline. Today, 25 to 30 percent of gasoline consists of highly carcinogenic and carbon intensive aromatic compounds (benzene, toluene, xylene), refined from crude oil, that refiners add to increase octane.

To compensate for what the U.S. Department of Energy is calling a “looming octane shortage,” expanded supplies of ethanol’s “clean octane” are needed to provide consumers the required octane for their autos. This looming octane shortage is a result of refiners’ increased use of lower-octane light, tight oil, the unnecessary E10 blend wall and the CAA’s mobile source air toxics (MSAT) aromatic restrictions. Thanks to the RFS, U.S. ethanol producers have proven they can supply this clean octane without the need for tax incentives or other government support.

So here is where respect for the law is needed: If EPA fails to enforce MSAT, as required under Section 202(l) of the CAA, we might see a dramatic rise in a range of respiratory and even neurological ailments directly related to gasoline mobile air toxics. From research we have conducted at the Urban Air Initiative, it is increasingly clear that gasoline exhaust is the primary carrier of the most lethal aromatics that lead to ground-level ozone formation. If gasoline aromatics continue to rise, our public health will continue to be at risk. 

In formal comments, UAI has provided EPA with a deregulatory road map to faithfully administer the law and escape this aromatics dilemma. The first and most important step is for EPA to correct its misinterpretation of Section 211(f) of the CAA, the “sub-sim” rule.  As of January 2017, ethanol became a “fuel additive used in fuel certification,” which means the CAA no longer limits the concentration of ethanol in market fuel. If EPA wants to regulate ethanol content, it must do so under Section 211(c), which puts the burden of proof on EPA, rather than the ethanol industry, to prove any harmful effects of ethanol.

Many ethanol supporters, including the National Farmers Union, Renewable Fuels Association, American Coalition for Ethanol, Clean Fuels Development Corp., Nebraska Ethanol Board, etc., have endorsed UAI’s deregulatory road map, which, if adopted by EPA, would open the door to mid-level blends up to E30 to be used in legacy vehicles.

EPA’s adoption of the UAI road map would produce many winners, and very few losers. Consumers and automakers would save billions in compliance costs. EPA would cut regulations and unleash market forces easing compliance with a host of important programs—the RFS, Corporate Average Fuel Economy, Tier 3 and MSAT. Refiners would not have to alter their crude slates or sub-octane blendstocks; 20 percent more ethanol can be easily splash-blended on top of E10 at the terminal to produce 100+ RON high-octane, low-carbon fuels. Farmers and ethanol producers would be able to gradually expand as corn starch surpluses are offset by increasing ethanol demand. Precision agriculture advances and high-yield corn acres will restore soil organic carbon, retain more moisture and nutrients, and sequester substantial amounts of carbon. Ethanol’s substitution for toxic aromatics will save taxpayers and businesses billions of dollars each year in reduced health costs. 
All this if Pruitt faithfully administers the law.
 

Author: David Hallberg
Board Member, Siouxland Ethanol LLC
Adviser, Urban Air Initiative
dehbiofuels@gmail.com