President Donald Trump is expected Tuesday to direct the EPA to lift the seasonal ban on higher-ethanol E15 blends of pump gasoline linked to summer smog issues.
The move has been anticipated for months. This timing for it, according to Reuters, is aimed at helping Republican candidates in farm-belt states during mid-term elections held in four weeks.
DON’T MISS: U.S. now uses more corn for ethanol than anything else (2011)
In recent years it has been increasingly difficult to find sound supporters of the U.S. ethanol mandate—outside of the agribusiness and corn-growing communities that benefit from it.
The opposition to mixing more ethanol into our fuel, without any significant overhaul of the overarching policy, brings together some unlikely allies. It includes everyone from conservative think-tanks opposing the government “pork” to conservation groups opposing the agricultural runoff to environmental groups opposing the way the ethanol is made (and lack of carbon checks on that.) Collector-car organizations, motorcycle and ATV enthusiasts, and boaters are all also allied against it.
The liberal use of corn ethanol in the U.S. gasoline supply is a relatively recent development. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established a Renewable Fuels Standard requiring a minimum annual volume of ethanol to be included in pump gasoline.
That created a market for ethanol, buoyed by biofuel credits that can be traded. The 10-percent ethanol blend in gasoline replaced an earlier substance, MBTE, designed to reduce summertime pollution from gasoline that was found to cause cancer.
Under the RFS, ethanol producers and refineries have reached what is known as the “blend wall,” the maximum amount of ethanol that existing sales of gasoline can accommodate at a 10 percent blend. The only way to reach the targets for ethanol sales in the RFS are higher sales of flex-fuel vehicles that can run on 85 percent ethanol, or allowing more sales of E15 or other blend mixes beyond 10 percent.
Federal regulators have been routinely providing waivers to the RFS for years because of the dilemma—a practice that erupted in negative headlines earlier this year after the Trump administration granted such waivers to large refineries owned by political allies.
Few buyers seem interested in purchasing more flex-fuel vehicles that use E85, which blends 85 percent ethanol into pump fuel, since it has been shown that these vehicles get significantly lower fuel economy running on it versus on gasoline.
Evidence remains sparse that ethanol has enabled gasoline prices to either stay lower or more stable. Refineries have claimed the opposite, in fact—that volatile credit prices add to the price strains. And studies not supported by agribusiness interests continue to show that corn ethanol introduces price pressure on the food chain.
Alternatives to corn ethanol, such as cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass and other crops, have been written into the long-term targets, but they’ve fallen short on production and commercial viability without a revamp of the entire system.
Any EPA rulemaking would need to be fast-tracked in order to take effect by next summer, Reuters noted.