Updated fuel regulations would modernize options at gas pumps

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Since the founding of Sheetz in 1952, “choice” for our customers and innovation have been central to our mission. It started in the 1950s when our doors were among the only open on Sundays due to Pennsylvania’s blue laws. In the 1970s, Sheetz increased consumer choice with the offering of self-serve gasoline. In the 1980s, we took consumer choice to the next level with the introduction of our Made-To-Order menu. Today it offers complete customization on an array of menu items, from sandwiches, to appetizers and pizza.

Since choice and a total focus on our customers is central to who we are, it only makes sense to offer a wide range of options at our gas pumps. That is why in 2015, we became one of the first large retailers to offer E15, which is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles built after 2001. Today we are the largest retailer of E15 in the U.S.

{mosads}While choices at the pump have tried to keep pace with new technology, our nation’s fuel regulations have not. During the summertime the EPA limits the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP), a measure of how quickly fuel evaporates, to 9 lbs. Under the current EPA guidelines, fuels containing up to 10 percent ethanol (E10) have a one-pound waiver, in other words can go up to 10 lbs., thereby allowing it to be sold year-round. However E15, which contains 15 percent ethanol, does not qualify for the waiver even though it has a lower RVP and is cleaner burning.

The waiver was written long before E15 was approved by the EPA and now because of a technicality doesn’t enjoy the same treatment as E10. As a result, E15 gets pulled off the market in nearly all 29 states where it is currently offered, and many retailers simply avoid selling higher biofuel blends altogether to avoid the confusion of a summer switch. In a few markets where the EPA requires extra-clean fuels, E15 remains available, but for the overwhelming majority of drivers, this affordable blend of homegrown biofuel is nowhere to be found.

Fortunately, lawmakers such as Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) have joined with Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and others to sponsor bipartisan legislation to update the law. The Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act simply holds E15 to the same standards as any other gallon of gas. Even EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt agrees, announcing his “hope” for a national fix earlier this May.

From a retail perspective, this minor fix would be a major relief to those offering E15 today and remove one of the biggest barriers for those wanting to offer E15.  For consumers, it will provide for year-round access and increased availability of E15. Given the value proposition of E15, since it typically sells for less than E10 is cleaner burning and higher octane, the consumer should benefit. 

Environmentally, fixing this outdated rule is just common sense. Without the growing demand for E15 in states like West Virginia and Minnesota, there’s little market potential to drive further innovation and continued investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels. The environmental benefits of biofuels like E15 have the potential to make a huge impact. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently found that ethanol has a carbon footprint 43 percent smaller than gasoline.

This fix doesn’t change anything about renewable fuel targets, but it does give consumers who want a cleaner, higher-octane and more affordable option the ability to choose for themselves. Not to forget, it also supports a homegrown industry responsible for supporting hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

Lawmakers preparing to vote on Consumer and Fuel Retailer Choice Act should recognize the first rule of retail: the customer is always right; and, as Sheetz has shown over the past 65 years, more options for consumers are never a bad thing.

Mike Lorenz is executive vice president for Sheetz.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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