gas pump
The EPA’s Move To Lower Gas Prices Confuses Arizona Legislators

May 7, 2023

By Daniel Stefanski |

A recent announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to briefly lower costs at American gas pumps may hamstring Arizona’s largest county’s efforts to reduce its ozone footprint.

Last Friday, the EPA issued “an emergency fuel waiver to allow E15 gasoline – gasoline blended with 15% ethanol – to be sold during the summer driving season.” According to the EPA, “the waiver will help protect Americans from fuel supply crises by reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels, building U.S. energy independence, and supporting American agriculture and manufacturing.” This action was made possible by The Clean Air Act, which “allows the EPA Administrator, in consultation with the Department of Energy, to temporarily waive certain fuel requirements to address shortages.”

The Biden Administration’s action on this front is not the first time they have attempted to reduce the cost of energy during the summer months. On April 29, 2022, the EPA also issued the waiver for E15 sales. The EPA’s most recent press release assured Americans the agency “does not expect any impact on air quality from this limited action (due to its own research),” and “consumers can continue to use E15 without concern that its use in the summer will impact air quality.”

This exploit from the federal government in 2022, however, sparked concerns about an increase in pollution for communities and states. In an interview with The Hill, Dan Becker director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, argued against the action because it “defeats everything that we’re trying to do to prevent more fuel from evaporating and getting into the air.” Margo Oge, the former Director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said (of the waiver), “The administration shouldn’t have done this, and they know they shouldn’t have done this, because this program to reduce evaporative emissions and keep the more volatile gasoline mixtures away from the summer months, has been in operation for decades.”

Becker also addressed the narrative of lower or neutral ozone impact from the waiver, referring to such rhetoric as a “long history of creative truth,” adding, “the amount of evaporation is not linear. In other words, E15 does not evaporate one and a half times as much as E10.”

Despite the EPA’s waiver that could lead to more ozone being released into the atmosphere, the agency continues to force local governments into extreme ozone-cutting measures. As AZ Free News reported last month, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) recently contracted with a California-based consulting firm to “identify and evaluate new and available ozone precursor control measures that could be implemented within the nonattainment area” – which is an “eight-hour ozone boundary for the 2015 ozone standard (2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard),” following a little-discussed published rule from the EPA in fall 2022, which moved “the region up the severity ladder for ozone pollution, reclassifying the region from ‘marginal’ to ‘moderate’ nonattainment for the ozone pollution standard.”

The consultant’s Final Report this spring suggested “approximately 50% reduction in nonattainment area anthropogenic NOx and VOC emissions” in order to bring the region into compliance with the EPA’s standard by an August 3, 2024, deadline.

To meet this deadline, suggested measures were included to reduce ozone in the Maricopa Nonattainment Area to meet Clean Air Act requirements related to the 2015 ozone standard. Some of the suggested measures include adopting standards similar to California like banning the internal combustion engine, banning gas appliances, and a host of regulations on various business activities.

The Republican-led Arizona Legislature has already moved to counter these potential measures, launching the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Air Quality and Energy to “gather information from experts and the public about local recommendations on rulemaking determinations by the EPA on ozone nonattainment.” Representative Gail Griffin, the co-chair of the Committee, weighed in on the EPA’s announcement, telling AZ Free News, “E15 gasoline is known to increase ground-level smog, The EPA’s decision to allow E15 gasoline to be sold in Arizona is going to increase ozone levels in our state; then the EPA will turn around and penalize Arizona for the ozone. It’s counterproductive. Any increase in air pollution that results from the EPA’s decision shouldn’t count against us in our compliance with federal air quality requirements. It’s unfortunate to have a federal government that is constantly working against us.”

Senator Frank Carroll, a member of the Committee, told AZ Free News, “So, what exactly is the end game for the Biden EPA? Science indicates that this approach is not in the best interest of clean air, fuel economy, and bees. We can certainly hope to expect a reduction in the price at the pump. Keep in mind that it was Biden’s energy policy and his foreign policy that got us to the higher prices. With 2024 election campaigns off and running, the waiver of E15 sales by the EPA is a political calculation that assumes people have short term memories about why we’re at high gas prices and high grocery prices. I think it is time to end bad policies by voting out the bad policymakers.”

Carroll also shared his insights on the impact the E15 waiver would have on Arizonans:

  • The EPA estimates that E15 is on average 25 cents a gallon cheaper than E10. Considering the economic times we are living in, will 25 cents a gallon stay in your pocket or evaporate at the grocery store? The price of tortillas and tamales increase when demand for ethanol increases.
  • Ethanol fuel will damage engines. The design characteristics of internal combustion engines usually favor gasoline fuel or favor ethanol fuel. Ethanol shortens the shelf life of fuel, reacts with moisture causing particles and corrosion in fuel systems and engines, especially pre-2002.
  • Even in engines that can operate on ethanol blends, there is a problem, energy density – a gallon of ethanol has only 2/3 the energy density of pure gasoline. You will notice a reduction in fuel economy.
  • Some areas in Arizona are subject to Clean Air Act emission offset requirements. Adding ozone to the air only makes meeting the requirements less likely. (Check out April 24, 2023, Joint Legislature Ad Hoc Committee on Air Quality and Energy).

Another Republican member of the Committee, Representative Austin Smith, also opined on the Biden Administration’s desperate efforts to reduce gas prices, saying, “Addressing energy affordability and the rising cost of living in our country is paramount. But this is the wrong way to do it. We need to increase domestic energy production and lift federal regulations across all sectors, not just the areas that serve special interests. The Biden Administration is not paying attention to the needs of Arizonans.”

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

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