Corn, ethanol groups ask federal appeals court to rehear arguments on allowing higher blend year-round

Source: By Donnelle Eller, Des Moines Register • Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2021

Three biofuel and farm groups have asked a federal appeals court to review a decision that blocks the sale of gasoline with 15% ethanol during summer months.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the National Corn Growers Association filed a petition this week asking the full court to rehear the case. The groups said the three-judge panel that originally heard the case made legal errors in reaching its decision.

Year-round sales of gasoline with 15% ethanol is important to Iowa farmers. Corn is the primary ingredient used to make ethanol, and Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of both corn and ethanol. About half of the annual crop goes to manufacture the fuel, which by law is mixed into the national gasoline supply.

The petroleum industry challenged a 2019 Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency rule that allowed gasoline with 15% ethanol, called E15, to be sold during the summer.  Most gasoline in the U.S. contains 10% ethanol and is called E10.

Provisions of the Clean Air Act prohibit the sale of some fuels with a higher volatility, including ethanol blends, from June 1 through Sept. 15 to limit smog. Congress has allowed E10 to be sold during the summer under a waiver, and the EPA ruling revised the interpretation of the exemption to include E15.

Ethanol supporters contend that using more of the corn-based fuel is better for the environment and helps meet federal climate change goals. Studies show use of ethanol results in fewer greenhouse gases that gasoline alone.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia panel overturned the EPA rule in July, saying Congress did not intend to allow ethanol blends higher than 10% to be widely sold year-round, and that the EPA had overstepped its authority.

Among the arguments in the petition, ethanol advocates said the panel ascribed “nonsensical” intent to Congress by interpreting the phrase “containing … 10 percent … ethanol” to mean “containing exactly 10 percent ethanol.”

“E15 also ‘holds’ or ‘has within it’ — and thus ‘contains’ — 10% of a specific substance, namely, ethanol (plus an additional 5%),” the petition says.

The decision defies the “oft-repeated command that, absent clear evidence otherwise, courts should not ascribe a bizarre or absurd purpose to Congress,” the groups said in the petition.

Biofuel supporters also have asked congressional leaders to change the law, allowing for year-round E15 use.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8457