Reformulated Gasoline in Virginia

Background

Reformulated gasoline (RFG) is gasoline blended to burn more cleanly than conventional gasoline. Using this fuel reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides (NOX), which are all pollutants that form ozone. RFG also reduces the emissions of some toxic pollutants. The Clean Air Act (CAA) mandated the use of RFG in certain large, metropolitan areas that had very poor air quality. The law provided to other areas experiencing air quality above the health-based standards the option to opt into the program. The first phase of the RFG program began in 1995 and the second and current phase began in 2000.  According to EPA, 17 states and the District of Columbia are in the RFG program, and about 30% of gasoline sold in the United States is RFG.

EPA estimates that RFG reduces mobile source emissions of VOCs by 27% and reduces mobile source emissions of NOX by 7% as compared to emissions from conventional gasoline. EPA also estimates that RFG emits 22% less toxic air pollutants than conventional gasoline.

RFG in Virginia

Twenty-eight jurisdictions in Virginia must use RFG. The CAA requires the Northern Virginia jurisdictions listed below to use RFG:

Northern Virginia Jurisdictions

  • City of Alexandria
  • Arlington County
  • City of Fairfax
  • Fairfax County
  • City of Falls Church
  • Loudoun County
  • City of Manassas
  • City of Manassas Park
  • Prince William County
  • Stafford County

The Richmond-Petersburg jurisdictions and the Hampton Roads jurisdictions listed below opted into the program to address past air quality issues:

Richmond Petersburg Jurisdictions

  • Chesterfield County
  • Charles City County
  • City of Colonial Heights
  • Hanover County
  • Henrico County
  • City of Hopewell
  • City of Richmond

Hampton Road Jurisdiction

  • City of Chesapeake
  • City of Hampton
  • James City County
  • City of Newport News
  • City of Norfolk
  • City of Poquoson
  • City of Portsmouth
  • City of Suffolk
  • City of Virginia Beach
  • City of Williamsburg
  • York County

Based on 2015 Virginia Department of Transportation traffic estimates, the three jurisdictions listed above accounted for 52% of all daily vehicle miles traveled within the Commonwealth (118,017,018 miles traveled in these jurisdictions versus 226,368,569 miles traveled total within Virginia).

RFG Emission Reductions in Virginia and Clean Air Plans

In the most recent clean air plan developed for the Richmond-Petersburg area to meet requirements of the CAA, the reductions calculated due to use of RFG in year 2018 were over 1,200 tons per year (tpy) of VOC reductions, over 6,700 tpy of CO reductions, and 58 tpy of NOX reductions. The most recent clean air plan developed for the Hampton Roads area estimated the 2018 reductions from RFG to be just over 1,300 tpy of VOC, over 3,400 tpy of CO, and 88 tpy of NOX reductions. In the Northern Virginia area, EPA guidance does not require states to estimate the benefits from specific control programs for the types of clean air plans needed in that area. Therefore, specific estimates of RFG benefits in Northern Virginia are not available. The benefits of RFG in Northern Virginia should be at least as large as those calculated for Hampton Roads. The clean air plans for these areas can be found on DEQ’s website.

The RFG program for the Northern Virginia area is specifically mandated by CAA § 211(k)(10)(D). Removing the RFG program from the Richmond-Petersburg and Hampton Roads opt-in areas would trigger the Act’s anti-backsliding requirements. These requirements mandate that most control programs must remain in place after air quality improves so that air quality does not back-slide into unhealthy ranges. States have the option of supplying substitute programs, which must have similar environmental benefit. Due to the emission reductions associated with RFG, finding and implementing equivalent beneficial programs that are cost-effective would be difficult.

Maintaining current control programs is even more important in light of the fact that in 2015 EPA promulgated a new ozone standard of 0.070 parts per million (ppm) over an eight hour average. EPA based this standard on extensive scientific evidence about ozone’s effects on public health and welfare. Air quality in Hampton Roads and Richmond-Petersburg currently complies with this health-based standard. However, air quality in Northern Virginia is above this standard. As industrial facilities reduce emissions, emissions from on-road and non-road engines are becoming increasingly important to maintaining and improving air quality.

Ethanol in RFG

RFG requirements do not mandate the use of ethanol or some other type of oxygenate in RFG. In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which removed the oxygenate requirement from RFG. In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires increased use of renewable fuels like ethanol in transportation fuels. Federal tax incentives motivate refiners and distributers to use higher volumes of ethanol in their fuel blends. Currently, both conventional gasoline and RFG usually contain ethanol; however, state and federal laws do not mandate the use of ethanol in RFG.

More RFG Information

Additional information, as well as fact sheets and compliance information, can be found at:

If you have any questions or need more information about the RFG program in Virginia, please contact Thomas R. Ballou, Manager, Air Data Analysis and Planning.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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