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Highlights

The Clean Air Act, as amended, requires some areas with especially poor air quality to use a "special gasoline blend" designed to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) and requiring the use of an oxygenate such as ethanol. In less severely polluted areas, the Act allows states, with EPA approval, to require the use of other special blends as part of their effort to meet air quality standards. GAO agreed to answer the following: (1) To what extent are special gasoline blends used in the United States and how, if at all, is this use expected to change in the future? (2) What effect has the use of these blends had on reducing vehicle emissions and improving overall air quality? (3) What is the effect of these blends on the gasoline supply? (4) How do these blends affect gasoline prices?

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. To provide a better understanding of the emissions impacts of using special gasoline blends and these blends' impacts on the gasoline supply infrastructure, the EPA Administrator should direct the agency to work with states and other stakeholders to comprehensively analyze how various gasoline blends affect the emissions of vehicles that comprise today's fleet, including how overall emissions are affected by the use of ethanol and other oxygenates.
Closed - Implemented
EPA implemented this recommendation with the publication of its report "EPACT Section 1541 (C): Boutique Fuels Report to Congress," published December 2006. In the work that supports this report, EPA addressed our recommendation to comprehensively analyze gasoline markets and how various blends affect emissions. Specifically, EPA reported on the results of a study of "...the impact of state fuel programs...on air quality, the number of fuel blends, fuel availability, and on fuel costs" (page 1, paragraph 1). This report also covered the effects of increasing use of ethanol and other oxygenates on emissions (page 15 and 16).
Environmental Protection Agency 2. To provide a better understanding of the emissions impacts of using special gasoline blends and these blends' impacts on the gasoline supply infrastructure, the EPA Administrator should direct the agency to use this updated information to revise the emissions models that states use to estimate the emissions and air quality benefits of these fuels and provide this information to Congress.
Closed - Implemented
EPA implemented this recommendation with the publication of its report "EPACT Section 1541 (C): Boutique Fuels Report to Congress," published December 2006. In the work that supports this report, EPA addressed our recommendation to revise emissions models used to estimate emissions of fuels and report to Congress. Specifically, In this report, EPA discusses DOE's and EPA's joint effort to perform a fuel harmonization study, which will provide "...an overview of the status of state boutique fuel programs."
Environmental Protection Agency 3. To provide a better understanding of the emissions impacts of using special gasoline blends and these blends' impacts on the gasoline supply infrastructure, the EPA Administrator should direct the agency to work with states, the Department of Energy, and other stakeholders to develop a plan to balance the environmental benefits of using special gasoline blends with the impacts on gasoline supply infrastructure and prices, and report the results of this effort to Congress.
Closed - Implemented
EPA has addressed this recommendation through various actions including the Boutique Fuels Task Force Report Process (report issued in June 2006) and in developing and submitting the Boutique Fuels Report to Congress (issued in December 2006) required by EPAct Section 1541(c). In support of developing the Boutique Fuels Task Force Report, states and federal agencies obtained the input of industry and other stakeholders to identify opportunities and options for effectively balancing the environmental benefits of special gasoline blends with the impact boutique fuels have on the U.S. fuels market. Further, the work conducted and results communicated in this process were further evaluated and affirmed in the Section 1541 DOE / EPA Boutique Fuels Report to Congress.
Environmental Protection Agency 4. To provide a better understanding of the emissions impacts of using special gasoline blends and these blends' impacts on the gasoline supply infrastructure, the EPA Administrator should direct the agency to work with the states, the Department of Energy, and any other appropriate federal agencies to identify what statutory or other changes are needed to achieve this balance and report these findings to Congress and request that Congress provide these authorities to the appropriate federal agency or agencies.
Closed - Implemented
EPA addressed this recommendation by consulting with stakeholders in May 2006 which resulted in a June 2006 report which identified a broad assessment of actions, next steps and recommendations to simplify the U.S. fuel system, increase fuel supply, encourage cooperation, among states and identify legislative changes that may impact fuel supply. In addition, in conjunction with DOE, EPA plans to submit to Congress their Harmonization Study as required in EPACT Section 1509, however, because this is a much more detailed report, it will require the results of many highly complex efforts prior to its release. Many of the efforts that will feed into the 1509 report are currently underway, including the emissions testing on new emissions technologies, an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on greenhouse gases regarding vehicle and fuel controls, identification of legislative changes and new authorities needed, and a national biofuel action plan.

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