Donald Trump to raise limit on ethanol in gasoline
President Trump on a campaign trip to Iowa on Tuesday night announced his long-awaited decision to raise the limit of ethanol in gasoline, giving a boost to Republican farm-belt candidates before the midterm elections and angering environmentalists and the oil industry.
At a rally in Council Bluffs, Mr. Trump said he is ordering the Environmental Protection Agency to lift a ban on the summertime sale of E15 gasoline, a fuel blended with 15 percent corn-based ethanol. The current summer limit is 10 percent ethanol. The EPA will issue a waiver under the Clean Air Act to allow the sales next summer.
Mr. Trump said the ethanol issue is “a promise I made during my campaign, and you know I keep my promises.”
“Like we’re taking care of our refineries and our refineries are doing a fantastic job we want to get more fuel into the system,” the president said.
The move comes amid Mr. Trump’s trade war with China, in which U.S. farmers are being hit hard by Chinese tariffs on agricultural products from pork to soybeans. Ethanol production supports more than 40,000 jobs in Iowa.
The E15 issue has pitted ethanol backers such as Iowa Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley against Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, who has urged the president to grant concessions to avoid hurting the oil industry.
The oil industry strenuously opposes higher ethanol sales and has pushed Washington to overhaul the 2005 biofuels mandate that was intended to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The mandate requires oil refiners to blend specified volumes of biofuels into gasoline and to buy biofuels credits if they are unable to.
Despite months of negotiations, however, oil refiners will receive only slight adjustments to the rules governing biofuel credits.
Mr. Trump also said he is getting “expedited approval” for a pipeline project in Texas, without detailing any specifics.
The president’s decision could help GOP candidates such as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is trailing in polls in her campaign against Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell. The move also could affect tight House races in Iowa.
Iowa also traditionally holds the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, scheduled for February 2020.
While the ethanol waiver could make for good GOP politics, an array of groups is opposed to the move, from environmentalists to business associations.
The National Council of Chain Restaurants, a division of the National Retail Federation, said pumping more ethanol into Americans’ gas tanks “is a bad idea for consumers and the environment.”
“Higher blends like E15 are bad for air quality in warmer temperatures,” said Executive Director David French. “Expanding the sale of E15 ethanol to year-round won’t make up for the harm corn growers are suffering from the administration’s trade war. If the administration wants to help corn growers in Iowa, they should end the trade war with China and restore export markets for America’s farmers.”
Environmental groups said the administration’s move is illegal.
“It’s simply not legal under the Clean Air Act to increase the year-round sale of E15 gasoline,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “EPA administrators appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents have concluded that an act of Congress is needed to grant a waiver of Clean Air Act statute for ethanol blends greater than 10 percent. Such measures have been introduced in recent Congresses only to face bipartisan opposition, including last summer.”
Mighty Earth Chairman and former Rep. Henry Waxman of California said Mr. Trump “is yet again putting corporate interests ahead of public health and a clean environment.”
“He is weakening Clean Air Act protections to allow more corn ethanol in the fuel supply,” Mr. Waxman said. “The short-sightedness of this move is even more obvious coming on the heels of the global climate science report, which says that we have just a dozen years before we face unavoidable catastrophe.”
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which frequently supports Mr. Trump’s initiatives, also opposed the ethanol proposal.
“The corn lobby will be the only winner if EPA lifts the federal ban on sales of E15 in summer driving season,” said CEI senior fellow Marlo Lewis. “E15 can cause engine damage and void the warranties of millions of vehicles on the road. E15′s inferior fuel economy will force motorists to fill up more often and get fewer miles to the gallon. Allowing E15 sales in summer driving season is also unlawful under the plain language of section 211(h)(4) of the Clean Air Act.”
As much as 97 percent of the gasoline sold in the U.S. is E10, a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent petroleum. The EPA approved E15 gasoline sales by issuing waivers beginning in 2010.