© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden returns a salute as he steps from Marine One upon arrival at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 11, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Alexandra Alper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will unveil plans on Tuesday to extend the availability of higher biofuels-blended gasoline during the summer to curb soaring fuel costs and to cut reliance on foreign energy sources, senior administration officials said.
The move represents the administration’s latest attempt to tamp down inflation, which hit a new 40-year high on Tuesday [L2N2W91K]. Biden’s poll numbers have sagged under the weight of higher consumer costs and it is seen as a significant liability heading into the November mid-term elections.
The measure will allow Americans to keep buying E15, a gasoline that uses a 15% ethanol blend, from June 1 to Sept. 15. While E15 is only 10 cents cheaper on average and is less “energy dense,” meaning drivers would need to buy more fuel, it should still help lower fuel expenses, the officials told reporters on a call previewing the announcement.
“Those savings can add up, especially during the summer months, when fuel is elevated and as the supply emergency caused by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression continues,” a senior administration official said.
The decision comes after several weeks of internal debates within the White House that pitted environmental advocates like Gina McCarthy against Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsak, a former governor of Iowa, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.
The summertime ban on E15 was imposed over concerns it contributes to smog in hot weather, though research has shown that the 15% blend of fuel may not increase smog relative to the more common 10% blends sold year-round.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions and boycotts that followed launched retail gasoline prices to record highs, a vulnerability for Biden’s fellow Democrats in November’s congressional elections.
Biden last month announced that the United States would sell 180 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at a rate of 1 million barrels per day starting in May, the biggest release from the stockpile since it was created in the 1970s.
Biden will make the E15 extension announcement during a visit to POET Bioprocessing, the largest biofuels producer in the United States in Menlo, Iowa.
“We applaud President Biden and his administration for recognizing that low-cost, low-carbon ethanol should be given a fair opportunity to strengthen our energy security and reduce record-high pump prices,” Renewable Fuels Association President Geoff Cooper said.
To make the change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to issue a national emergency waiver closer to June, the officials said. The EPA is also considering additional action to allow for the use of E15 year-round, the White House said.
But success is not guaranteed. The courts struck down a prior bid by Biden’s predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, in 2019 to extend a waiver that allowed year-round sales of E15.
The officials previewing Biden’s announcement said his administration would us a different “approach” and “authority” than Trump but did not offer details.
They also said the EPA would work with states to ensure that there would be no “significant” negative impact on summer air quality due to the extended sale of E15.