President Biden will announce Tuesday that he is temporarily removing restrictions on summer sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends, making an attempt to lower fuel costs for U.S. consumers.
The move comes as Mr. Biden seems to tame soaring gas prices, which hit a record last month following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The U.S. and its Western allies have banned imports of Russian oil to punish it for the attack, sending prices soaring.
Mr. Biden will issue an emergency waiver allowing the summer sale of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol, called E15. Most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains 10% ethanol.
He will make the announcement after touring an ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa, which is the nation’s top producer of the renewable fuel and the corn used to make it.
A White House fact sheet estimates that at current prices E15 could save a family 10 cents per gallon at the pump. The same fact sheet noted that many stores sell E15 at a greater discount. Because ethanol is made from corn, it is cheaper than straight gasoline.
“Allowing higher levels of blending will also reduce our dependency on foreign fuels as we rely more heavily on homegrown biofuels,” the fact sheet said.
E15 is a small part of the U.S. fuel market, accounting for roughly 520 million gallons a year. Proponents have argued that its share of the gas market should be expanded.
The Environmental Protection Agency, which will implement the emergency fuel waiver, is also considering additional action to facilitate the year-round selling of E15, according to the White House.
The summertime ban on E15 was imposed in 2019 over concerns that it contributes to smog in hot weather, though research in recent years concluded it may not produce more smog than the 10% blends sold year-round.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers has pressed the White House to lift the summertime ban on E15.
Led by Sens. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, and Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, lawmakers last month urged Mr. Biden to displace Russian oil imports by increasing access to E15 ahead of the 2022 summer driving season.
“Preserving the option for American drivers to select E15 throughout the busy summer driving season will benefit our families and businesses while blunting a vital source of funding for Vladimir Putin’s campaign of destruction,” the senators wrote. “Additional, committing to this policy now will send an important signal of certainty and stability to fuel retailers currently or considering selling E15 in the year ahead.”
Gasoline with 15% ethanol has been alleged to cause damage to auto engine parts, according to a study by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), a coalition of oil companies and automakers.
The study found that E15 could damage valve and valve seat engine parts in some vehicles, which could possibly impact millions of cars and trucks. The CRC released the study in 2013 when it was in the middle of a court battle with the EPA to stop widespread use of E15. It remains the most widely cited study of E15.
The CRC study faced significant pushback from groups advocating the use of E15. Fuels America, a coalition of organizations promoting renewable fuels, said the study displays “clear bias and ignores millions of miles and years of testing that went into EPA’s approval of E15.”
The Renewable Fuels Association, which represents the ethanol industry, accused the CRC of picking and choosing the components, adding that the study didn’t disclose which vehicles it tested, making it impossible to tell if they had been recalled.
Selling E15 in the summertime has become a thorny political issue in recent years. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an ethanol industry appeal of a lower court decision upholding the ban.
A federal appeals court that year had ruled that former President Trump exceeded his authority when he approved summertime sales of E15.