Higher Ethanol Gas and More Pollution, No Problem

On October 9, Donald Trump announced he has authorized year-round sales of higher-ethanol-content gasoline.

Starting next June 1, thanks to a new policy just introduced by the Trump administration, gasoline with up to 15% ethanol will be fully legal to sell all year long.

Trump did this by lifting a former federal ban on summer sales of the high-ethanol blends. Referring to blends with up to 15 percent alcohol, he triumphantly announced the change by proclaiming, “Today we are unleashing the power of E15 to fuel our country all year long.”

Conventional fuels have a mix of 10 percent ethanol. In the U.S. that ethanol comes from corn. Under previous federal administrations, the Environmental Protection Agency had banned sales of E15, a blend with 15% ethanol, from June 1 through September 15. That’s because the higher percentage of ethanol is seen to create more smog especially on hotter days.

Ethanol industry advocates and the corn lobbies say that’s just not true.

Spokeswoman Rachel Gantz of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, praised Trump’s plan. She said that, “The ability to sell E15 all year would also bring a significant boost to farmers across our country.”

On the other side of the argument is the oil industry. It doesn’t argue the pollution question, in part probably because they have enough problems with the public in that area already. What they have warned is that higher-ethanol gasoline can cause harm to fuel systems and engines of older cars and motorcycles. They say this despite that the EPA had previously approved use of E15 in all light-duty vehicles – cars, trucks or motorcycles – since 2001, 17 years ago.

Lawmakers representing oil industry states complained about Trump’s decision. In a letter sent to the White House and signed by 16 Republicans and 4 Democrats, they say the idea of increasing ethanol content is misguided, would hurt refinery jobs, and “could hurt millions of consumers whose vehicles and equipment are not compatible with higher-ethanol blended gasoline.”

For Trump, publicly his position is that, as he said, “I want more because I don’t like $74,” the current price of a barrel of crude oil. “If I have to do more – whether it’s through ethanol or another means – that’s what I want. I want low prices.”

There is also no mistaking that opening up gasoline blends to 50% more ethanol is a big boon for the state of Iowa and its senior Senator Chuck Grassley. It would not be a surprise if the new policy on E15 is in part a reward to Grassley after his controversial – but eventually successful – chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee through the ugly and polarizing argument to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

Grassley had previously taken the Trump administration to task for proposed major cutbacks in ethanol production volumes from the White House and Cabinet earlier this year.

The new summer E15 gasoline rule will go into effect with the beginning of summer gasoline sales starting June 1, 2019.