U.S. Delays Switch to Summertime Gas After Virus Reduces Driving

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration said Friday it is delaying a shift to cleaner-burning, summertime gasoline after the coronavirus pandemic caused a plummet in demand and left storage tanks full of winter-grade fuel.

The Environmental Protection Agency decided to relax those requirements for at least 20 days in response to pleas from refiners and gasoline distributors worried about their ability to drain tanks and other equipment, as coronavirus-spurred lockdowns keep cars off the roads. The EPA warned of potential fuel shortages without a waiver, because refiners and distributors otherwise are required to stop selling winter gasoline on May 1.

“Nobody’s buying fuel right now,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a telephone interview. “There’s not the capacity of the tanks just to even blend the winter fuel into the summer fuel. We have a real, live problem out there.”

The EPA’s waiver applies to fuel refiners and distribution systems from May 1 to May 20, though additional or regional delays are possible later. Retailers generally face a June 1 deadline to switch over gasoline pumps in parts of the country where smog is a problem. The annual change to low-volatility gasoline is required to minimize air pollution during warm summer months in many parts of the country.

Environmentalists and public health advocates have warned against a broader blanket waiver of summertime requirements for low-volatile fuel.

“There are significant health consequences associated with ozone and particulate matter pollution and the other pollutants -- coughing and wheezing and shortness of breath and death,” said Paul Billings with the American Lung Association. “Exposure to air pollution makes people more susceptible to respiratory infections.”

The EPA is also going to extend a March 31 deadline for small refineries to comply with 2019 biofuel-blending requirements, following a federal court ruling limiting their ability to win exemptions from the mandates.

Wheeler said the agency would begin writing a new rule “to provide them with additional flexibilities” and will not process 2019 waiver requests at this point. The agency also announced it didn’t intend to revisit or rescind any previously granted small refinery exemptions issued for prior compliance years.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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