Delay in SAFE Rule Disappointing, but Still an Opportunity

Delay in SAFE Rule Disappointing, but Still an Opportunity

February 27, 2019: EPA’s decision to delay fuel economy rules until “later in the year” provides the Urban Air Initiative an opportunity to continue educating the agency on the benefits of clean octane from higher ethanol blends.

Originally the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule was supposed to be finalized by March 2019. But last week, the Trump Administration announced the delay, largely due to failed negotiations with California to establish a single national efficiency standard.

The proposed SAFE Rule would freeze the fuel-efficiency for vehicles at the 2020 target of 43.7 miles per gallon. The proposal asked for comments on whether there are potential improvements to fuel economy and CO2 reductions from higher octane fuels.

“Whatever the final fuel economy requirements are, high octane fuels made with clean burning ethanol gives automakers a readily available, effective, and low cost tool that allows them to increase efficiency and more importantly, reduce the most harmful pollutants from gasoline,” said Urban Air President Dave VanderGriend.

The message that high octane fuels can play a key role in increasing efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions were detailed in comments UAI filed along with its supporters, as well as comments filed by a broad group of ethanol advocates including the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, the Governors’ Biofuel Coalition, the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union Enterprises, and the Environment and Energy Study Institute.

According to VanderGriend, championing ethanol as a clean octane solution for the SAFE Rule is something every ethanol advocate needs to get behind. Not only would ethanol help improve fuel economy standards, it would also help achieve Title II of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act contains requirements that the EPA reduce toxic aromatics to the greatest extent possible.

“The 10% ethanol in our fuel today reduces toxic aromatics in gasoline by eight billion gallons a year. That reduction will increase with the use of high octane mid-level ethanol blends, such as E25 or E30. Increasing octane without using ethanol would be a violation of the Clean Air Act,” VanderGriend said.

The UAI, CFDC, and NFU comments identify a comprehensive list of regulatory reforms that the EPA could enact to open the door to higher ethanol blends. This includes extending any vapor pressure waiver to all blends since limiting the rule to E15 would provide little if any octane boost.  An update to EPA’s previous interpretation of the substantially similar rule, clarifying that there is no legal limit on ethanol volumes. Additionally, they call for requiring and mandating a minimum octane standard to eliminate sub-octane blends.

“We certainly understand the challenge of developing a single national standard and hope all parties can come to agreement. However, raising the minimum octane standard and breaking down barriers to higher ethanol blends could bring us that much closer to a clean octane solution that gives automakers options to meet SAFE Rule requirements.”