U.S. waives gasoline rules in Virginia, Georgia as Florence nears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said late on Wednesday it has temporarily waived air pollution regulations on gasoline in Georgia and Virginia as fuel supplies dip with the approach of Hurricane Florence.

The agency approved waiver requests because it determined that “extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances exist in portions of Virginia and Georgia as a result of the approaching hurricane,” it said in a release.

A day earlier, the EPA approved similar waivers for North Carolina and South Carolina.

EPA waived through Sept. 15 rules on federal Reid vapor pressure requirements and through Sept. 30 rules on reformulated gasoline and the blending of reformulated gasoline blendstock.

Officials in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina this week warned retailers against price gouging, citing penalties for violating state of emergency rules against excessive price increases.

Hurricane Florence has pushed up gas prices and stations in the Southeastern evacuation zones have experienced a run on fuel supplies.

Gas prices in South Carolina have climbed by about 8 cents to nearly $2.59 a gallon from a week earlier, according to motorists’ advocacy group AAA. Early Tuesday, nearly 6 percent of Wilmington, North Carolina stations reported running out of supplies, said retail tracking service GasBuddy.

The center of Florence, a slow-moving Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, is expected to strike North Carolina late Thursday or early Friday and could drift southwest along the coast before turning inland, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Grant McCool