President Biden will announce Tuesday that his administration will temporarily allow E15 gasoline — gasoline that uses a 15% ethanol blend that is typically banned from sale from June to September — to be sold this summer, a measure intended to help ease gas prices on a day when inflation hit its highest monthly figure in 40 years.
The president is scheduled to visit an ethanol plant in the small town of Menlo on Tuesday, about 50 miles west of Des Moines, Iowa.
Ethanol is a fuel commonly made from corn that, under the 2005 federal Renewable Fuel Standard, is required to be blended into billions of gallons of gasoline each year.
In contrast to E10, which makes up the bulk of gasoline sold in the United States, the sale of E15 is typically banned during the summer under the Clean Air Act because of air pollution concerns.
Gas prices have risen dramatically in the last few months, reaching a national average price of $4.11 a gallon as of Monday, according to AAA. Though that’s down somewhat from last month’s high, it is still a considerable jump from this time last year when prices were just $2.86 a gallon.
Analysts attribute much of that increase to turbulent oil markets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the U.S. does not import much oil from Russia — and has now banned its import — it is a major global supplier.
“The President is committed to doing everything he can to address the pain Americans are feeling at the pump as a result of Putin’s Price Hike,” the White House said in a statement. “The Administration’s strategy to spur the development of homegrown biofuels is critical to expanding Americans’ options for affordable fuel in the short-term and to building real energy independence in the long-term by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”
The move will likely prove unpopular with major oil companies, which has long campaigned against increasing the amount of ethanol in fuel tanks — a rare bit of bad news at a time of record profits for the industry. U.S. oil giant Exxon said earlier this month that it is set to top a seven-year record for quarterly profits.
In 2019, President Donald Trump allowed E15 to be sold year-round in what was seen at the time as a bid to increase his political standing with farmers after his trade war with China hurt U.S. farmers. It was a move that a federal court overruled after the fact, saying EPA exceeded its authority, and the Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal earlier this year.
The impact on gas prices remains to be seen. Compared with E10 gas, there is limited infrastructure to sell E15 gasoline because not all vendors are willing to invest in a product that cannot be sold year-round.
In another bid to drive down prices at the pump, Biden announced last month an unprecedented plan to draw 1 million barrels of oil per day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve through the summer.
And although industry groups have touted alleged emissions benefits of biofuels like ethanol, a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office noted “limited effect, if any, on greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the administration has pledged to halve U.S. greenhouse gas pollution from 2005 levels in the next eight years, Biden’s climate policy goals have largely fallen by the wayside as the president faces sagging approval ratings and strong economic headwinds ahead of the midterm elections.