WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Friday it would allow summertime sales of gasoline with a higher blend of ethanol, a win for the biofuel industry and farmers who want an expanded market for their corn.
The move would be aimed at keeping down consumer pump prices during the high-demand summer driving season by boosting the overall volume of available fuel, and reflects the Biden administration’s ongoing worry about energy costs.
The waiver would temporarily exempt the 15% ethanol fuel blend from anti-smog regulations that effectively block sales from June 1 to Sept. 15 throughout much of the United States. Adding ethanol to gasoline is known to increase smog pollution in hot weather, but research has shown little difference between E15 and the more-widely available E10 blends. The EPA said it does not expect the move to have a significant impact on emissions.
“Allowing E15 sales during the summer driving season will not only help increase fuel supply, but support American farmers, strengthen U.S. energy security, and provide relief to drivers across the country,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
U.S. gasoline prices at the pump averaged about $3.63 a gallon on Friday for regular unleaded, versus $4.14 a gallon a year ago, data from the American Automobile Association showed.
The EPA estimates that E15 is on average about 25 cents a gallon cheaper than E10.
The Biden administration issued a similar waiver last year as part of a raft of measures to help address historically high gasoline prices.
The U.S. biofuels and corn lobby has pushed hard for an expansion of E15 sales, arguing that ethanol sales help farmers. Trade groups including the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy applauded the news.
“EPA’s action allowing summertime E15 will help extend gasoline supplies, prevent fuel shortages, protect air quality, and reduce carbon emissions,” said RFA President Geoff Cooper.
The RFA said that after last year’s waiver, an additional 194 million gallons of E15 were sold last summer. They said that saved consumers $57 million nationwide.
The oil refining industry has resisted expanded ethanol sales, which is costly to blend and competes with petroleum fuels. The American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers criticized the EPA’s decision.
“The U.S. market is well supplied with gasoline, which EIA [Energy Information Administration] data make clear,” said AFPM President Chet Thompson. “Therefore, we’re anxious to see how EPA is going to justify this decision.”
The emergency waiver will take effect on May 1, when terminal operators would otherwise no longer be able to sell E15 in affected regions, and will last through May 20. The agency expects to issue extensions of the waiver until tight supplies prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are no longer an issue.