(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden visited POET Bioprocessing, an ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa, on Tuesday to announce a temporary expansion of E-15 sales for June through September to reduce gas prices.
Biden said that ethanol helps to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.
“By adding this fuel to our gasoline — 10 percent or 15 percent, even more — it stretches the supply,” he said.
He also claimed that ethanol increases competition that will result in lower prices at the pump.
“It gives you a choice at the pump. When you have a choice, you have competition; when you have competition, you have better prices,” Biden said.
“And in addition to all of that, you get less harm to the environment, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and you get even byproducts like grain here which does — goes into animal feed and which helps cattle producers and lowers their costs,” he added. “This is an industry with a tremendous future.”
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, joined Biden for his tour of the ethanol plant and his announcement.
“I have been fighting tooth and nail to make sure biofuels is a part of the clean energy solution. Investing in biofuels not only helps Iowa’s farmers and rural communities, but also reduces our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and brings down prices for Iowa families,” Axne said. “Ethanol is significantly cheaper at the pump, helps reduce our carbon emissions, and provides good-paying jobs right here in Iowa. I am immensely grateful for the President’s announcement to ensure E15 remains available year-round and for his continued work, along with Secretary Vilsack, in supporting Iowa farmers and rural communities.”
Monte Shaw, the president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, praised Biden’s decision.
“With high fuel prices and energy security at the forefront of Americans’ minds, allowing nationwide sales of E15 is the single most important step the President is empowered to take to keep fuel costs down this summer while also promoting American-made energy, and we applaud President Biden for taking it,” he said. “It would have made no sense during this time of oil embargoes and high gasoline prices to let ridiculous and unnecessary restrictions on E15 force thousands of Iowans and millions of Americans to pay higher fuel prices. E15 can now continue to bring relief at the pump throughout 2022.”
Corn producers applauded the decision as well.
“Ethanol is a top market for Iowa’s corn farmers so removing barriers for drivers to have access to the most affordable, climate-friendly fuel on the marketplace today is a win-win for all Iowans,” Lance Lillibridge, Iowa Corn Growers Association President and farmer from Vinton, said.
E-15 is currently sold at 2,300 gas stations nationally, where it can save an average of 10 cents per gallon of gas or more, according to a fact sheet The White House released Tuesday.
EPA is considering facilitating use of E-15 year-round and modifying E-15 fuel pump labeling and will work with states to ensure there are no significant air quality impacts this summer.
Food and Water Watch Managing Director of Advocacy Programs and Policy Mitch Jones told The Center Square in a phone interview Tuesday that the announcement is “largely symbolic.”
E15 is available at fewer than two percent of stations in the country, and gas stations that don’t already have E15 won’t add the equipment required since it’s solely a five-month waiver, he said.
“It’s a shockingly small number of stations that this is actually going to affect, and very few Americans are currently putting E15 into their cars and trucks, so the impact on the average driver is not going to be great at all,” he said.
Jones said increased ethanol content can negatively impact car engines.
There are also environmental concerns. Runoff from heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides creates conditions that impact local waterways, encourage algae blooms in the Great Lakes and suffocate food sources for manatees off the coast of Florida, Jones added.
“The role that ethanol has to play has been oversold by the ethanol industry,” he said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in its Consumer Price Index for March that prices rose an additional 1.2 percent last month, part of an 8.5 percent spike in the past year, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has suggested farmers consider manure as a fertilizer and provided recommendations as fertilizer prices are soaring.
Since January 2021, the price of anhydrous ammonia has increased 315 percent, urea has increased by 214 percent, liquid nitrogen by 290 percent, monoammonium phosphate by 171 percent, and potash by 213 percent, Miller’s office reported in its February announcement of an investigation into prices.
We’re concerned that the administration is not focused on the real structural problems here and is attempting to find short-term fixes that don’t get at the heart of the issue,” American Petroleum Institute senior vice president of policy Frank Macchiarola told the Wall Street Journal.
The USDA plans to award agricultural producers reliant on biofuel producers $700 million through a new Biofuel Producer Program by the end of April. The USDA also announced $5.6 million for Infrastructure for Renewable Fuels through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program to increase sales and use of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel, supporting nine projects in seven states. One hundred million will be awarded for biofuels infrastructure for grants for refueling and distribution facilities for the cost of installation, retrofitting or upgrading infrastructure and supporting biofuels for railways.
A Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge to increase sustainable aviation fuels by 2030, $4.3 billion in funding for sustainable aviation fuel projects and fuel producers, and increased research and development for technologies that can achieve at least a 30% improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency were also announced. The EPA is also proposing a new approval of canola oil to expand access for fuels’ participation in the Renewable Fuel Standard program for renewable diesel, jet fuel and other fuels.
Iowa’s Republican elected officials applauded Biden’s announcement, but urged him to do more.
“Since early last year, Senator Grassley and I have been pushing this administration to lift the ban on E15 by the summer driving season – and at long last, the president has relented. Home grown ethanol is a cleaner, cheaper choice for consumers, and Iowa’s biofuel producers are ready to meet the demand. This announcement is certainly welcome news for Iowans,” U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said in a released statement.
“I’m glad President Biden is finally listening to what Senator Ernst and I have been saying for months. Biofuels consistently provide consumers with a more affordable fuel option, and Iowa producers stand ready to meet the moment and ramp up production to lower gas prices for all Americans. Unlike tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and begging OPEC for more dirty oil, this is a step toward energy independence, lower gas prices and cleaner air,” U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, responded.
Gov. Kim Reynolds called the announcement a “great first step.”
“Thank you to the Biden Administration for this very welcome news. While there is more to be done from the Administration to address high energy and fuel prices, unrestricted access to E15 is a great first step,” she said.
“This action, although temporary, will ensure Iowans continued access to E15 and higher blends of ethanol. It is critical that the EPA implements this in a way to fully allow E15 for the entire summer driving season. I will continue to fight for our agriculture and renewable fuels industry because Iowans, and all Americans, deserve less expensive, cleaner-burning fuels,” Reynolds added.
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, called for year-round sales of E15.
“For years Iowans have been touting the benefits of increased ethanol production. Ethanol and biofuels are an efficient, consumer-friendly, and clean source of energy. I applaud the decision to finally listen to the Iowa delegations’ calls to allow for summertime sales of E-15 and I strongly encourage a move toward permanent year-round sales. As America moves to completely cut off Russian energy imports, allowing summer E-15 sales is a great step toward increasing our domestic energy production and ensuring American energy independence,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, also praised the announcement, but called on Biden to reverse some of his other energy policies.
“Finally allowing the sale of E-15 in the summer is good, but long overdue, news. The President should permanently make E-15 available year-round, and Iowa biofuels should be front and center in an all-of-the-above energy strategy that will bring costs down, bolster our fuel supply, and restore American energy independence long-term,” she said.
“While this is a positive step, President Biden must reverse course on the rest of his harmful agenda. Iowans need the President to secure our border, work to bring prices down, and provide long-term solutions to the energy affordability crisis created under his Administration,” Hinson added.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig called expanding ethanol sales a win for Iowans and Iowa agriculture.
“Today’s announcement by President Biden is a step in the right direction, but it’s long overdue and needs to be permanent. Iowans have been asking the administration to allow year-round sales of E15 long before fuel prices spiked, yet the President has prioritized electric vehicles powered by Chinese-built batteries,” he said. “Renewable fuels have a multitude of benefits for our state and help our country re-establish energy independence. Year-round access to E15 means stronger markets for Iowa’s farm families, more jobs in rural communities, cleaner burning, lower-cost fuels for consumers and less dependence on foreign energy. It is a win for Iowans and Iowa agriculture.”