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US EPA still aiming for June 1 approval of higher ethanol blend

Highlights

Without rule change, E15 is banned during US summer driving season

Trump's E15 promise has been bogged down for months

Washington — The US Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it still plans to approve sales of higher ethanol blends before the US summer driving season starts June 1, when E15 would otherwise be banned.

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"EPA will finalize the rule before the start of summer driving season," a spokeswoman said Wednesday, without giving any details about how close the agency is to meeting the target as the deadline nears.

S&P Global Platts assessed D6 ethanol Renewable Identification Numbers for 2019 compliance at 14 cents/RIN Tuesday and D6 RINs for 2018 compliance at 9 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.

President Donald Trump promised in October that his administration would approve year-round E15 access, but the policy change got bogged down by the government shutdown and by the intractable debate between biofuel makers and oil refiners.

EPA proposed a year-round E15 rule in March, a process that typically takes several months before a final version is adopted.

Farm-state senators and the biofuel industry have been urging EPA to adopt a final rule by this summer's driving season.

However, market observers say fuel station owners are likely waiting until the rule is final before adding any new equipment. E15 must be stored and pumped separately from E10. And even after the policy is final, lawsuits could delay or reverse it.

The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade group, predicts that hundreds of fuel stations would add E15 equipment in the months after EPA adopts a final rule and thousands within several years.

S&P Global Platts Analytics expects E15 to expand in three phases after EPA lifts the ban: higher sales at stations that already sell E15; new stations adding tanks and pumps for the first time; and eventually new markets opening in the 20 or so states that currently do not allow E15, including California and New York.

Reid Vapor Pressure gasoline volatility rules currently ban sales of E15 from June 1 to September 15.

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

-- Edited by Alisdair Bowles, newsdesk@spglobal.com