Getting Out the Corn Vote: Trump Proposes Lifting Summer E15 Gasoline Ban

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

If you’re like this writer, seeing “may contain up to 10 percent ethanol” at the gas pump leaves you frowning, then reaching for the premium nozzle. It’s not just that 91 octane helps my tiny turbo run better — I don’t like paying through the nose (as I do for all grades) for slightly less energy by volume.

Should President Donald Trump move forward with reported changes to U.S. ethanol laws, you can expect to see more corn alcohol at your local gas station. And I don’t mean Jim Beam.

According to Reuters, Trump will attempt to lift the summer ban on the E15 gasoline blend on Tuesday. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency forbids its use during the warmer months to alleviate air quality concerns. (During hot weather, E15 gasoline evaporates quicker than the E10 blend found in most regular unleaded pumps, contributing to the formation of smog.)

The move, designed to appease Midwestern corn producers and motorists, would also place new restrictions on the trading of biofuel credits among big oil producers. For years, “merchant refiners” — those who don’t produce and sell blended biofuels — have complained that buying Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) from those who do has become an expensive proposition. Merchant refiners must buy the credits to comply with federal clean fuel regulations. Across the industry, RINs are a multi-billion dollar business.

The Trump administration sees this as a win-win for smaller producers as well as consumers. As ethanol is cheaper than refined gasoline, allowing a higher blend would serve to lower pump prices. Corn growers, already suffering the fallout from new trade tariffs with China, might see a boost in the value of their product.

Chet Thompson, chief executive of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, clearly wished for more perks from the proposal. “The president has promised to broker a deal to reform the [Renewable Fuel Standard] that works for all stakeholders. This isn’t it,” he said in a statement.

The biofuel industry, however, is all smiles.

The lifting of the summer E15 ban could come in the form of a waiver exempting it from EPA regulations. While the years-long march towards a greater share of ethanol in the nation’s fuel tanks initially earned a thumbs-up from environmentalists, fuel quotas and an increase in corn production for use in biofuels led to environmental side-effects. At the top of the harm list is increased fertilizer runoff into sensitive waterways.

Motorists remain wary of gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol, despite the 2011 EPA pronouncement that E15 is fine in cars produced from 2001 onwards. Several automakers objected to this. Then there’s the economics for the consumer. Pump prices might come down, but a tank of E15 or even E10 won’t contain as much energy as a tank of high-test. You’re paying slightly less to go slightly fewer miles, depending on engine type. How it actually shakes out on the road is difficult to gauge.

While most auto companies claim their late-model vehicles are E15 compatible, others continue to warn drivers not to use E15 in their products — among them, Subaru, BMW, Mazda, and Mercedes-Benz.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Volvo Volvo on Oct 10, 2018

    On the bright side as a resident of California since this is a Trump proposal maybe the California State Government and CARB will now ban ethanol blended gas just because this initiative comes from the Trump Administration. One can hope. :)

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Oct 11, 2018

    @brn--I started last year adding fuel stabilize to my lawn equipment gas cans after I buy my gas. I don't fill my cans up completely so that I can add the stabilizer in and I shake the gas can every time I refill my lawn equipment. I do see E-15 as more political than environmental especially since the President is anti-environmental and believes climate change is fake science (I think he believes that all science is fake). Maybe the Government needs to have a program similar to Cash for Clunkers where if your vehicle is older than 2001 or it was not designed to run on fuel with a higher ethanol content than E-10 then offer a credit to be used on a purchase of a new vehicle designed to run on E-85 and require that the older vehicle be destroyed. This way you have removed the older vehicle and it is no longer an issue and you have a vehicle that can run on any ethanol blend that is no more the 85% ethanol. If the President decides that gasoline needs even a higher ethanol content than E-15 then the vehicle will be able to run on that blend without damage.

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