PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A state legislative committee on Wednesday approved a compromise version of a rule allowing the sale of 85-octane gasoline in western South Dakota, but not beyond June.
The Rules Review Committee was deadlocked a month ago on whether to approve a state agency's proposed rule permanently allowing retailers in western South Dakota to sell the lower-grade blend. The version approved 4-2 Wednesday means the 2013 Legislature will have to decide whether to permit the sale of the gasoline past June 30.
The rule allows retailers in nine counties to sell it as long as pumps carry a warning label: "Sub-Regular Octane - Refer to owner's manual before fueling."
Octane is a measure of fuel performance, with a higher level indicating better performance. Officials have said 85-octane gasoline is generally intended for use in high-altitude regions such as the Rocky Mountain states.
During an investigation into allegations that some stations were selling 85-octane fuel mislabeled as higher octane gasoline, South Dakota's Public Safety Department earlier this year discovered that state law technically prohibits the sale of 85-octane gasoline. Most car manufacturers recommend that gasoline used in vehicles have a minimum octane rating of 87.
The Public Safety Department, with Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's backing, passed an emergency rule making 85-octane gasoline legal anywhere in South Dakota until Oct. 7. The department did so to avoid a possible fuel shortage during the summer tourism season in the Black Hills and the rest of western South Dakota, where the low-octane fuel has been used for decades. The rule approved by the Rules Review Committee will replace the emergency rule.
The department's original version of the rule would have allowed the sale of 85-octane gasoline only west of the 102nd Meridian, essentially the western quarter of South Dakota. The rule approved Wednesday replaces the meridian reference to specify that the lower-octane blend can be used in Butte, Custer, Fall River, Harding, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, Perkins and Shannon counties.
Rep. Shawn Tornow, R-Sioux Falls, who voted against the rule in August, supported it Wednesday, saying it will address the problem until the Legislature can decide what to do about the issue in the long term.
Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said she opposes allowing the sale of 85-octane gasoline because it can harm engines.
"I do not think the rule is advantageous to South Dakotans because it endangers the life of their automobile engines," Gibson said.
Sen. Sen. Angie Buhl, D-Sioux Falls, who also opposes the rule, said she's against it because the pump label would not be a strong enough warning against using the low-octane fuel.
Officials have said vehicles made in recent decades have sensors that adjust engine performance to octane levels and altitudes, so 85-octane gasoline will probably not damage engines. However, the lower octane fuel could harm engine performance, mileage and emissions, they said.
After the hearing, Dawna Lietzke, executive director of the South Dakota Petroleum and Propane Marketers Association, said refineries in western states would stop shipping fuel to western South Dakota if the state does not allow 85-octane gasoline to be sold.
"They're just going to cut off our supply," Lietzke said.
Lietzke's organization, which represents gas stations, opposes the warning label requiring 85-octane gasoline to be called sub-regular.
Rules generally cannot permit something banned in state law. But lawmakers have said the rule would legally allow the sale of 85-octane gasoline by following a provision of law that allows state requirements to conform to standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.