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Biden restores summer sales of E15, a farm-state goal

The EPA will issue an emergency waiver allowing sales of E15 — gasoline that is 15% corn ethanol — this summer, announced President Biden on Tuesday, ahead of a trip to Iowa, the No. 1 corn- and ethanol-producing state. The step will save motorists up to 10¢ a gallon on surging gasoline prices and aid the rural economy, said the White House.

In addition, the USDA will disburse $700 million in pandemic aid to biofuel producers by the end of April and award $5.6 million to nine projects to install pumps, tanks, and other equipment for sale of higher blends of ethanol, such as E15 and E85, and biodiesel, such as B20. The USDA also will support biofuels for railways through a $100 million grant program for biofuels infrastructure, said the White House.

As part of his first trip to Iowa since election in 2020, Biden was scheduled to visit an ethanol refinery in Menlo, about 50 miles west of Des Moines, in central Iowa.

Ethanol and farm groups have pressed the administration for weeks to reinstate summertime sales of E15, arguing it would combat inflation and provide a homegrown remedy to the sky-high petroleum prices created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The federal appeals court in Washington ruled last July that the Trump administration overstepped its authority in 2019 when it approved year-round sales of E15. Until then, sales were banned from June 1-September 15 in most of the country as a precaution against smog.

“We look forward to working with this administration and leaders in Congress to deliver a permanent fix to restore year-round access to E15 in the years ahead,” said Emily Skor, chief executive of Growth Energy, a biofuel trade group.

E15 is sold at comparatively few U.S. gas stations, some 2,600 out of 150,000 places to buy gasoline, and is a small part of the ethanol market. A record 814 million gallons of E15 were sold in 2021, a 62% increase from the pandemic year of 2020, according to the Renewable Fuels Association. U.S. ethanol production was around 15 billion gallons last year.

Nonetheless, the ethanol industry has long viewed E15 as a way to multiply sales, since nearly all gasoline sold in the country is 10% ethanol, the traditional blend rate.

“At current prices, E15 can save a family 10¢ per gallon of gas on average and many stores sell 15 at an even greater discount,” said the White House. “For working families … that will add up to real savings” as well as replacing imported fuels with homegrown biofuels. “This will help up bridge toward real energy independence.”

“Farmers are proud to contribute to cleaner, less expensive fuel choices,” said the National Corn Growers Association.

The White House fact sheet, “Using homegrown biofuels,” is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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