‘Short-term thinking’: Environmentalists push back against Biden’s ethanol production expansion

President Joe Biden’s plan to reduce gas prices by allowing the sale of higher ethanol fuel This summer can make corn farmers and their elected delegates happy. But the move also upset environmentalists, who see ethanol as a climate change villain.

Biden made the announcement Tuesday during a trip to Iowa, where corn — and ethanol — is vital to the state’s economy. He said the Environmental Protection Agency would issue an emergency waiver of the Clean Air Act that would allow the sale of gasoline with 15% ethanol, 5% more than a conventional blend, from June 1. until September 15. This change will reduce the amount of gasoline. The Biden administration says prices are about 10 cents a gallon at 2,300 gas stations equipped to pump gas.

For environmentalists, that’s a small gain compared to the damage the decision could do to the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“What the president is doing is defining short-term thinking,” said Carroll Muffett, president and executive director of the Center for International Environmental Law. “The goal here should not be to bring the price of gas down to 10 cents in the near term by increasing emissions that endanger the majority of the population.”

Although ethanol was used more than a decade ago as a renewable fuel, its green reputation has faded. Scientists have found evidence that increasing corn production for ethanol can increase greenhouse gas emissions; a study published in February said ethanol could be worse for the climate than gasoline.

The reason Biden needs an urgent exemption is that the summer use of gas with 15% ethanol, called E15, is said to increase smog.

“This is a quick fix that will harm the planet and not help,” said Jim Walsh, policy director for Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit group that opposes the use of ethanol as a climate solution. What are the benefits to consumers?

Senior Biden administration officials told reporters that the EPA’s own analysis did not indicate that emergency waivers could harm air quality. They point to another study, published last yearshows that ethanol’s greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing with improvements in farming and production methods.

Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol trade association, said ethanol “is definitely a winner when compared to gasoline.”

Biden’s move also drew criticism from the oil industry. The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil and gas industries, states that the scarcity of stations powered by E15 fuel that limits the impact of presidential action.

“Americans are looking for long-term solutions, not short-term political ones, without acknowledging the logistical, regulatory, and compatibility constraints that limit E15’s ability to affect pump prices today,” said Ron Chittim, vice president of the group. downstream policy, said in a statement.

President then Donald Trump tried to allow year-round use of E15 fuel in 2019 but a federal court dismissed him after a challenge from refiners.

Sheila Karpf, a senior policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government nonprofit monitoring group that opposes ethanol subsidies, said she expects Biden’s waiver to also be challenged in court. .

“We have seen decades of corn ethanol subsidies, and the distribution to the industry continues,” she said.

Cooper, of the ethanol trade group, said he too expected the oil industry to challenge Biden’s E15 expansion but it would survive, as it involved the temporary use of emergency powers authorized by Clean Air Act.

“If war in Ukraine and $4 gas and shortages in the market don’t warrant an emergency, I don’t know what will,” he said.

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