Biden will allow summertime sales of higher-ethanol gas as prices remain elevated.

Source: By Lisa Friedman and Michael D. Shear, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Brian Snyder/Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Biden will announce on Tuesday a suspension of a summertime ban on sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends, a move that White House officials said was aimed at lowering gas prices but that energy experts predicted would have only a marginal impact at the pump.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency will issue a waiver that will allow the blend known as E15 — which is made of 15 percent ethanol — to be used between June 1 and Sept. 15. The White House estimated that allowing the ethanol blend to be sold in the summer would shave 10 cents off every gallon of gasoline purchased at the approximately 2,300 stations in the country that offer it, and cast the decision as a move toward “energy independence.”

The decision to lift the summertime ban comes as Mr. Biden faces growing pressure to bring down energy prices, which helped drive the fastest rate of inflation since 1981 in March. A gallon of gas was averaging $4.10 on Tuesday, according to AAA.

Mr. Biden is expected to make the announcement about E15 on Tuesday when he visits an ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa. The move follows a plan the president announced last month to release one million barrels of oil a day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months.

Ethanol is made from corn and other crops and has been mixed into some types of gasoline for years as a way to reduce reliance on oil. But the blend’s higher volatility can contribute to smog in warmer weather. For that reason, environmental groups have traditionally objected to lifting the summertime ban, as have oil companies, which fear greater use of ethanol will cut into their sales.

How much the presence of ethanol holds down fuel prices has been a subject of debate among economists. Some experts said the decision is likely to reap larger political benefits than financial ones.

“This is still very very small compared with the strategic petroleum reserve release,” said David Victor, a climate policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This one is much more of a transparently political move.”

Corn state lawmakers have been urging Mr. Biden to fill the gap created by the United States ban on Russian oil exports with biofuels.

Oil refiners are required to blend some ethanol into gasoline under a pair of laws, passed in 2005 and 2007, intended to lower the use of oil and the creation of greenhouse gases by mandating increased levels of ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix every year. However, since passage of the 2007 law, the mandate has been met with criticism that it has contributed to increased fuel prices and has done little to lower greenhouse gas pollution.

Lisa Friedman reports on federal climate and environmental policy from Washington. She has broken multiple stories about the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal climate change regulations and limit the use of science in policymaking. @LFFriedman

Michael D. Shear is a veteran White House correspondent and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was a member of team that won the Public Service Medal for Covid coverage in 2020. He is the co-author of “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” @shearm

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