Committee clears path for final E15 vote

By: - February 8, 2022 5:27 pm

Green Plains has an ethanol plant in Superior, Iowa. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A proposed law that would require most fueling stations to sell gasoline blends that are 15% ethanol is ready for a potential final vote in the Iowa Senate.

“This is about Iowa, this is about the people that live in Iowa, this is about supporting Iowans,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, chair of the Senate’s agriculture committee. “This is about making Iowa a viable — economically viable — state where fuel is available everywhere.”

House File 2128 received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Iowa House last week and was considered Tuesday by a Senate agriculture subcommittee and the full committee in quick succession. Zumbach was the only senator who spoke about the bill, which received unanimous support and would boost the state’s demand for corn and ethanol.

The legislation was initially proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. It has been opposed by representatives of fueling stations — especially in smaller towns — who are unhappy with the potential costs to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate gasoline with a higher blend of ethanol. The dominant fuel sold for general transportation in Iowa is a gasoline blend that contains 10% ethanol, or E10.

The proposal would require at least half of fuel pumps to dispense E15, and fueling stations with just one pump would also have to sell E15 exclusively if there’s only one choice for fuel, with some exceptions for stations with certain tanks that are at least 25 years old. Smaller fueling stations and convenience stores have warned they would close if forced to update their equipment.

The cost to replace an old tank and its accompanying infrastructure is estimated to be at least $70,000. The proposed law would supply up to $50,000 to help cover that cost.

Another potential wrinkle: Federal law prohibits the general sale of E15 during the summer because it is more likely than others to evaporate in the heat. As such, to comply with the new state law, gas stations would be forced to relabel the E15 pumps during summer months as a flex fuel, which commands a far smaller demand from drivers.

That would “cause sales to fall through the floor,” Tom Cope, a lobbyist for Casey’s General Stores, has said.

A Senate subcommittee had already recommended a similar biofuels bill last week, but senators have opted to take up the House’s bill instead. It’s unclear when the full Senate might vote.

“We have a real opportunity to do well for Iowans,” Zumbach said. “Good bills come hard. Good bills come with questions. Good bills come with controversy.”

A similar proposal failed to get support from a majority of legislators last year, in part because it would have required nearly all gasoline pumps to sell ethanol blends.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.