In 1990, the Clean Air Act amendments set out special rules regarding the manufacture and sale of gasoline in the U.S. This week, some of those rules have been suspended in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The amendments require that reformulated gasoline, or RFG, be used in cities with high levels of smog (though other cities can mandate its use if they like). RFG burns more cleanly than conventional gas, usually because it's been treated with oxygenates. Today, RFG is used in 17 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Which is fine most of the time. But earlier this week, Sandy swept ashore, damaging petroleum storage facilities and causing severe pipeline delays. That's resulted in long lines at gas stations across the Northeast, and made it much harder for oil companies to distribute fuel.
According to Reuters, Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has temporarily lifted the RFG requirement for states affected by the storm. The announcement was made yesterday in a letter sent to governors of those states, as well as governors of states that supply gasoline to the affected areas.
The EPA waiver allows stations to sell conventional gasoline rather than RFG, and it also permits some states to blend RFG with conventional gas to stretch dwindling supplies. The restrictions have been lifted through November 20. (To see a PDF of Jackson's letter, click here.)
Obviously, this won't cure the Northeast's current woes, but it should make the recovery move a little quicker. If you have thoughts about other ways that the federal government might speed up the process of getting back to normal, feel free to share them in the comments below.