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US EPA's E15 expansion 'slightly delayed' but won't miss summer: Wheeler

Washington — The head of the US Environmental Protection Agency promised Wednesday to make E15 available for sale during the summer driving season, despite the partial US government shutdown shrinking the timeline to make the regulatory change.

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EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler told senators during his confirmation hearing that all work on the policy has stopped during the shutdown, making the change "slightly delayed." He said the agency cannot work on it because it is not a court-ordered deadline or an emergency.

Current gasoline volatility rules limit summertime sales of E15, or gasoline blended with 15% ethanol.

S&P Global Platts assessed D6 ethanol renewable identification numbers (RINs) for 2018 compliance at 15.25 cents/RIN Tuesday, up 0.5 cent from Monday. They started 2018 at 70.5 cents/RIN.

RINs are tradable credits EPA issues to track production and use of alternative transportation fuels. For corn-based ethanol, one gallon of ethanol yields one RIN.

Before the shutdown, EPA had planned to propose the regulatory change in February and make it final in May, already a relatively quick turnaround.

Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, asked why EPA "insisted on waiting" until February to issue the rulemaking, when President Donald Trump first promised the policy change in October.

"Why didn't EPA set rulemaking wheels in motion in November or December or January?" he said.

Trump told a farmers group Monday he remains committed to approving year-round E15.

"We're ensuring that ethanol remains a vital part of America's energy future with E15," Trump told the American Farm Bureau Federation in New Orleans. "We're making it available year-round, all 12 months. That was a big, big difference for the farmers."

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An EPA spokesman said last week that the agency would still complete the rule before the summer driving season.

"This is a priority for both President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler," spokesman Michael Abboud said. "The ongoing partial shutdown will not impede EPA's ability to keep to our deadline."

--Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, newsdesk@spglobal.com