Midlands lawmakers hail decision to allow year-round sales of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol

Midlands lawmakers hail decision to allow year-round sales of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol
The Trump administration on Friday ended a summertime ban on the sale of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol. REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD

The Trump administration is following through on a plan to allow year-round sales of gasoline mixed with 15% ethanol.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the change Friday, ending a summertime ban imposed out of concerns for increased smog from the higher ethanol blend. The agency had proposed the change in March.

The change also fulfills a pledge that President Donald Trump made to U.S. corn farmers, who see ethanol as an important driver of demand for their crops. Oil refineries have been seeking exemptions from government requirements to include ethanol in their fuel mixes.

Friday was victory lap time for many corn-belt lawmakers, who issued statements hailing the EPA’s move and touting their own efforts to make it happen.

“For years I’ve fought for a solution like this for our farmers and ethanol producers,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said. “I want to thank President Trump for following through with his commitment on this issue, and I look forward to seeing the positive results of year-round E-15 sales.”

Iowa and Nebraska are the No. 1 and 2 ethanol-producing states, respectively.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., represents the state’s large and largely agricultural 3rd District.

“The uninterrupted sale of E15 gives consumers consistency in their fuel tank and farmers consistency in their production,” Smith said. “I have long championed the year-round sale of E15, and I am grateful to the president for getting this done.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., described the rule as a common-sense change that will benefit the state.

“The EPA’s old rule tied the hands of our ethanol producers with unnecessary red tape,” Sasse said. “This is great news that helps hardworking corn growers and Nebraskans at the pump.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, described the move as a promise kept by Trump.

“It’s been a goal of ethanol producers and Midwest farmers for many years,” Grassley said. “It will be a boon to the rural economy in Iowa, especially considering continued trade uncertainty.”

Then-candidate Trump pledged to support ethanol when he was on the 2016 campaign trail in Iowa. But his administration has upset the industry at times as it seeks to also satisfy another key constituency in refineries that claim economic hardship from having to comply with federal ethanol mandates.

Ethanol producers have complained about the EPA’s aggressive issuing of hardship waivers to refineries under Trump, an issue Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, alluded to in her statement after praising the E15 decision and welcoming what she said is an expected economic ripple through rural communities.

Ernst said the EPA rule is an improvement by requiring more public transparency on the enforcement mechanism for the ethanol mandates.

“This is a step in the right direction, but I’ll continue to push the agency to be more forthcoming, especially when it comes to small refinery exemptions and the process in which they grant those waivers,” Ernst said.

The oil and gas industry, as well as some environmental groups, oppose the rule and are likely to go after it in court.

During a press call with reporters, Ernst said expressed confidence that the EPA is prepared to face those lawsuits.

“No doubt in my mind — I think it’ll be challenged,” Ernst said of the rule. “But I think we’re ready to withstand that challenge.”

Federal law for more than a decade has mandated that oil refineries mix ethanol into their fuel. The Trump administration’s former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, had angered lawmakers, growers and ethanol processors in Iowa and other key election states by granting a spate of exemptions sparing refineries from that mandate.

The dispute sparked a billboard campaign and a tractor rally by angry farmers in the Midwest last year.

The change removes a barrier to wider sales of E15 and is expected to expand the market for ethanol — although immediate effects on the market are expected to be minimal. Only about 1,000 to 1,500 of more than 150,000 U.S. gas stations currently sell the higher-ethanol blend, said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.