WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will announce Tuesday another step to try to reduce prices for drivers who have been paying more to fill up their tanks: expanding the availability of biofuels.
While visiting an ethanol plant in Iowa, Biden will announce the administration plans on allowing gasoline that uses a 15% ethanol blend to be sold during the summer, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Called E15, the blend can cost 10 cents per gallon less on average at the 2,300 gas stations where it’s sold, the officials said.
Regular gas is averaging around $4.11 a gallon compared with $2.86 a year ago, according to AAA, and Biden is under political pressure to show he is doing what he can to ease the price pain at the pump.
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His announcement comes the same day the Consumer Price Index for March will be released, a report that is expected to show a large year-to-year spike in inflation.
Setting expectations for a big number, White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said the administration expects inflation “to be extraordinarily elevated” because of the jump in oil prices after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“We are taking a range of steps to reduce the price of gas to move us toward a long-term, more clean energy economy,” she also said.
Biden previously announced the U.S. would try to spur oil production and tap strategic reserves to ease gas prices, which spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting a ban on Russian oil imports.
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Democrats have labeled the increase “Putin’s price hike” while Republicans charge that Biden could be doing more to increase domestic oil production.
Administration officials said the action Biden will announce Tuesday will increase the use of home-grown biofuels, reducing dependence on foreign fuels.
While almost all gasoline in the U.S. contains 10% ethanol, access to E15 is curtailed annually in some states from June 1 to Sept. 15 because it is believed to contribute to smog during warmer weather.
The EPA has determined that lifting that restriction is not likely to have a major environmental impact because most of the gas stations that sell E15 are not in areas with air quality issues, according to a senior administration official.
The EPA is not expected to act until closer to June, when it will determine if a national fuel supply emergency still exists. The agency can grant waivers in 20-day increments.
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Under President Donald Trump, the EPA granted E15 a waiver for year-round use in 2019. But last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the rule, saying the agency had exceeded its authority. The U.S. Supreme Court declined in January to hear a challenge to the ruling.
Asked why Biden’s actions won’t run into the same problem, senior administration officials said – without going into detail – that Biden’s approach is different.
In addition to addressing energy prices, Biden’s Iowa trip is part of the spotlight the administration is shining on rural communities this month. Cabinet secretaries and other administration officials are traveling to dozens of communities to tout what Biden is doing for rural areas.
“Investments are being made to reflect the value and importance of rural places and people,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, said Monday.
Iowa is the nation’s top producer of renewable fuel and the corn used to make it.
Elected officials, both Republicans and Democrats, from Iowa and other corn belt states, as well as farm groups and biofuel producers, have pressed Biden to use his emergency powers to allow summer use of E15.
A Harvard study last year showed the use and production of ethanol emits up to 46% fewer greenhouse gasses than gasoline. A University of Wisconsin study has challenged that finding, saying ethanol is worse for the environment than gasoline, based on changes in how land is used to grow the corn used to produce it. But the Argonne National Laboratory disagreed with the Wisconsin study last month, saying the group overestimated carbon loss from soil and double-counted some emissions, among other concerns.