Rep. Thelma Drake

While Congress further takes up the debate on offshore drilling and continues to speculate on the role of speculators, there are things we can do now to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our nation’s energy infrastructure. “Boutique fuels” are so named because they are specialty blends which seek to mitigate poor air quality standards in certain areas. While the Clean Air Act specifically requires certain areas to utilize federal reformulated gasoline (RFG) in order to reduce emissions and improve air quality, in some cases states are able to create their own standards in order to meet air quality goals.

The numerous unique boutique fuel blends now sold in this country all share the same goal to improve air quality standards. However, the negative impact of these differing standards is incompatibility. Specialty blends often cannot be moved from one area of the country to the other in order to meet demand – which in turn can cause a significant impact on gas prices. This is especially true in times of disaster or pipeline service outages.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita tragically demonstrated this point. In the days after Hurricane Rita, nearly one third of our nation’s refining capacity was offline. Nearly seven months later, 8 percent of our refining capacity was still shut down. The nation watched as gas prices in certain areas skyrocketed overnight, and as a result, the President authorized EPA to issue many waivers in the ensuing months, relaxing boutique fuel regulations so that a sorely needed fuel supply could reach those who no longer had a roof over their head.

The average American filling up his or her tank may not be aware of the chemistry that goes into crafting that unique gallon of gas that is specially formulated to improve air quality in their region. However, he or she may wonder when the price of that gallon of gas increases overnight in times of emergency, especially if that price reaches far beyond our current average – which today is $4.11.

We must improve our nation’s infrastructure and allow EPA the authority to waive these specialized fuel requirements when necessary. Since all of these fuels have the same aim, I also believe we must reduce the number of boutique fuels and increase the fungibility of gasoline throughout this nation.

This week, as part of the ‘all of the above’ Republican-led energy solutions, I filed a discharge petition on a bill that will do just that. The Fuel Mandate Reduction Act, was introduced by House Republican Whip Roy Blunt. This legislation lowers the number of boutique fuels in our country, and allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broader waiver authority in times of crisis. We can prepare our infrastructure now to avoid situations that could severely drive up the cost of fuel on consumers – right when they need it most to power generators, or evacuate sensitive areas.

While some debate whether we can drill our way out of this energy crisis, I say we can prepare ourselves now – just as Congress should have done years ago – to avoid any unnecessary crisis in the future. By filing this discharge petition, it is my hope that my colleagues and I will be able to bring important and sensible legislation to the floor now for debate.


Rep. Thelma Drake

Congresswoman Thelma Drake represents Virginia's Second Congressional District.