Trump aims to end ethanol warning labels in biofuel policy blitz

Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Kim Chipman

The Trump administration advanced a flurry of biofuel policy proposals Friday, including plans that could help ethanol producers sell more of the corn-based fuel.

Final decisions about those possible changes to biofuel-blending mandates and warning labels at pumps dispensing higher-ethanol E15 gasoline will now fall to President-elect Joe Biden. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposals ensure the Biden administration will inherit battles over 16-year-old requirements to blend renewable fuels into gasoline and diesel that bedeviled President Donald Trump.

Under one of the EPA proposals advanced Friday, the agency is seeking to modify or even completely scrap requirements for a warning sticker wherever pumps dispense the E15 gasoline blend containing 15% ethanol.

The current orange-and-black sticker cautions that E15 should only be used in passenger vehicles no older than 2001, and should not be used to fuel up boats or other gasoline-powered equipment because of the risk of damage and violating federal law.

Ethanol advocates say it discourages motorists from filling up with E15 and is no longer needed. Ethanol producer POET LLC has encouraged label changes as one of several moves the Biden administration can take right away to make it easier to sell E15.

Warning Label

However, oil and refining leaders have insisted it is necessary to ensure the fuel isn’t pumped into equipment not certified to use it. Some lawmakers have advanced legislation that would go in the other direction, roughly tripling the label’s size and explicitly adding the word “warning” to it.

The EPA also is proposing changes that could make it easier to store higher ethanol blends in existing underground storage tanks.

“We are pleased to see this first step toward removing onerous labeling and underground tank requirements and expanding access to E15 for American drivers,” said Emily Skor, chief executive of the pro-ethanol group Growth Energy. “We look forward to working with the incoming Biden administration to ensure that the final rule addresses any remaining retail and infrastructure barriers that currently hold back cleaner, more affordable options at the fuel pump.”

Separately, the EPA is seeking comment on requests by governors and some small refineries to pare Renewable Fuel Standard quotas amid the pandemic that has crushed fuel demand.

The agency is also proposing to delay deadlines for fulfilling biofuel-blending quotas, with small refineries having until Nov. 30, 2021 to satisfy mandates from 2019. The deadline for complying with 2020 quotas would shift to Jan. 31, 2022, under the EPA proposal.