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 the emissions of nitrogen oxides by 7% as compared to emissions from conventional gasoline.  EPA also estimates that RFG emits 22% less toxic air pollutants than conventional gasoline.

Costs

EPA originally estimated that Phase I RFG would cost 3¢ to 5¢ per gallon more than conventional gasoline to manufacture and that Phase 2 RFG would cost an addition 1¢ to 2¢ per gallon.  However, the actual fuel costs seen by motorists vary by region, season, and other factors, including the cost of crude oil.  The Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides weekly spot prices and collects retail price information for various types of fuels.  The following graph shows weekly retail prices of regular convention gasoline and regular RFG in the lower Atlantic states (WV, VA, NC, SC, GA, and FL) from November 1994 to December 2016.

Figure 1:  Weekly Spot Prices for Regular Conventional and Regular RFG

This figure shows that the prices of regular conventional gasoline and regular RFG are comparable. During some periods, the cost of conventional gasoline may be slightly lower than that RFG; during other periods, the cost of conventional gasoline may actually be slightly higher than that of RFG. 

RFG in Virginia

Twenty-eight jurisdictions in Virginia must use RFG. The CAA requires the Northern Virginia jurisdictions listed in Table 1 below to use RFG.

            Table 1: Northern Virginia Jurisdictions Using RFG
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 and Hampton Roads jurisdictions listed in Table 2 opted into the program to address past air quality issues.

Table 2: Richmond-Petersburg and Hampton Roads Jurisdictions Using RFG
Richmond-Petersburg Hampton Roads
Charles City County James City County City of Poquoson
City of Hopewell York County City of Portsmouth
Hanover County City of Chesapeake City of Suffolk
Henrico County City of Hampton City of Virginia Beach
City of Colonial Heights City of Newport News City of Williamsburg
Chesterfield County City of Norfolk
City of Richmond

In 2015, based on VDOT traffic estimates, the jurisdictions listed in Table 1 and Table 2 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.  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.  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 enormous 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.


Nonattainment designations for the new ozone standard may require the re-imposition of transportation conformity requirements, a considerable burden to the regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations.  Such a designation may also trigger CAA requirements for tougher permitting of new and modified industrial sources and further controls on small businesses such as those using solvent cleaners, printers, and auto refinishers.

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.

The increased use of renewable fuels such as ethanol is an important step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as reducing our country's dependence on foreign oil.  However, the use of ethanol in gasoline may cause engine performance problems and other issues in certain limited applications, especially around water.   For the owners of such equipment located in conventional gasoline areas, suppliers and refiners offer products that are ethanol-free.  However, at this time, an ethanol-free product meeting RFG specifications is not available. To address the issues and concerns regarding the use of ethanol-blended gasoline in watercraft, the Virginia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 557 during the 2016 legislative session.  

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. § 1. That the Department of Environmental Quality be directed to seek from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) an exemption from the federal reformulated gasoline (RFG) program for the sale by a qualifying marina of conventional, ethanol-free gasoline. A qualifying marina shall be one that sells gasoline exclusively to the marine recreational or commercial trade. No ethanol-free gasoline sold by such marina shall be used in any road vehicle. (See Chapter 54 of the 2016 Acts of Assembly.)

DEQ submitted this exemption request, asking that Virginia marinas located in RFG areas be provided the option to sell ethanol-free conventional gasoline to watercraft where ethanol-free RFG is not available, on June 27, 2016.  EPA denied this request in a response dated November 17, 2016.

For 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 Mr. 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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