WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new rules to make it easier for oil firms to use ethanol to produce cleaner burning reformulated gasoline for the Midwest market, where gasoline prices are the highest in the nation.
The proposal could bring down the cost of producing reformulated gasoline (RFG), and reduce prices at the pump that have topped $2 a gallon in many Midwest cities and towns this summer.
The agency's proposal would make it easier for refiners to blend ethanol in RFG by recognizing that the oxygenate distilled from corn reduces carbon monoxide that causes air pollution, more so than other gasoline additives that add oxygen.
Oil refiners generally can choose between MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) and ethanol to produce the cleaner fuel to meet Congress' requirement that RFG contains two percent oxygen by weight.
However, for cleaner-burning gasoline with ethanol to meet pollution reduction standards, an adjustment must be made to the gasoline to reduce the rate of the fuel's evaporation.
The adjustment is needed because ethanol can make gasoline evaporate more quickly, which leads to an increase in air pollution.
However, the use of ethanol in RFG provides more oxygen in the fuel that other additives, such as MTBE.
So in exchange for the greater carbon monoxide benefits, the EPA is proposing to allow refiners to slightly increase the evaporation level of the gasoline when they use ethanol.
"This proposed adjustment would make it more feasible for refiners to use ethanol in the RFG program," the agency said.
The RFG program is aimed at reducing pollution in the smoggiest U.S. cities. The clean fuel accounts for about one third of all the gasoline sold in the country.