Trump Administration Moves to Lift Restrictions on Higher-Ethanol Fuels

President Trump's new ethanol policy would allow for summer sales of E15.

President Trump's new ethanol policy would allow for summer sales of E15. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

President Donald Trump has announced a plan to allow the year-round sales of higher-ethanol blends of gasoline, recharging a longstanding debate over the pros and cons of biofuels ahead of the midterm elections, several news outlets reported. The new policy will also make changes to how renewable fuel credits are marketed and regulated.

Increasing the percentage of corn-based ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent in summer was previously blocked because ethanol blends are known to increase ozone pollution and smog when burned in warmer temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2011 that it could not allow the expanded use of 15-percent ethanol blends, known as E15, under the Clean Air Act, according to The Hill.

The White House has directed the EPA to formally draft a regulation to allow E15 to be sold year-round with the hope that it will help boost American corn sales, which have declined in recent months due to the trade war between the U.S. and China, and cut the price of gasoline, currently averaging $2.91 per gallon nationwide. Once finalized, the rule will have to go through a formal comment period.

“This action is specifically directed at increasing the supply of biofuels and providing consumer choice and is in line with the president’s approach to propping up the free market,” a senior White House official said on a conference call with reporters yesterday. “The president has repeatedly stated his support of the Renewable Fuels Standard program and thinks it’s good to have domestically created fuel here and think it will be good for the agriculture industry overall.”

President Trump’s decision is being celebrated by farmers and ethanol producers, but has angered U.S. oil interests. The American Petroleum Institute says lifting the summer ban on E15 will cut into oil companies’ market share and the trade association has vowed to sue the EPA, Reuters reported. Several lawmakers, including Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, co-signed a letter last week urging that the E15 ban be retained.

Environmental groups have also pledged to file lawsuits over the fuel policy change, saying it violates pollution restrictions under the Clean Air Act.

“The limits exist in the Clean Air Act for a reason,” said David DeGennaro, agricultural policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Ethanol blended in gasoline does produce more pollutants that lead to smog than gasoline alone. So by increasing the amount from 10 percent to 15 percent, that breaks those limits that are in the Clean Air Act and could potentially lead to more ozone formation.”

For more on the debate over biofuels, click here.