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EPA relaxes rules regarding gasoline sales amid coronavirus outbreak

EPA relaxes rules regarding gasoline sales amid coronavirus outbreak
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Friday that it will extend the amount of time that winter gasoline can be sold this year as producers have been facing lower demand due to the coronavirus. 

It will allow companies to sell the winter-grade gasoline through May 20, whereas companies would have previously been required to stop selling it by May 1 to protect air quality. 

“Due to the steep fall-off in gasoline demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, gasoline storage capacity is limited and more time is needed to transition the distribution system in order to come into compliance for the summer driving season,” the EPA said in a statement. 

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Summer-grade gasoline has a lower volatility than winter-grade gasoline, which means that it is less likely to evaporate into the atmosphere in the summer heat, causing smog.

David DeGennaro, a climate and biofuels policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation, slammed the agency’s action. 

“In responding to an international health crisis, the last thing the EPA should do is take steps that will worsen air quality and undermine the public’s health,” he told The Hill in a statement. 

Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, said the move isn’t likely to impact consumers. 

“Demand is already low and prices have plummeted because of that,” he said. 

De Haan added that for consumers, “filling their tank is not going to be any different no matter if they’re filling up with winter or summer gasoline.”

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In its statement, the EPA also said that it wouldn’t rescind any biofuel requirement exemptions for small refineries. 

A court this year determined that the agency was using its authority to grant exemptions too often, and ordered it to reconsider three waivers. The agency declined to appeal that decision this month. 

Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper in a statement characterized this as an "attempt to kick the can on nationwide application of the 10th Circuit Court decision [that has] nothing to do with COVID-19 and everything to do with politics."

"There is absolutely no reasonable justification for delaying implementation of the court’s decision," Cooper said. 

The agency told The Hill on Friday that it planned to comply with the court’s order when it is final, and that its announcement did not say otherwise. 

The moves to bolster the industry come as it is facing plunging prices from a decrease in demand due to the coronavirus, which has been forcing people to remain at home.

It also follows a sweeping announcement by the EPA that it would suspend its enforcement of many environmental laws due to coronavirus. 

Industries have pushed for the relaxation of standards as they face unprecedented challenges amid a global pandemic; however, critics characterized the EPA’s action as an abdication of its responsibilities and giving a free pass to polluters.