Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Trump boon for ethanol aims at Corn Belt vote, but might founder after election on legal challenge from oil industry

As expected, President Trump announced Tuesday the details of his plan to lift the federal ban on summer sales of high-ethanol gasoline blends, which will benefit corn-growing states. High-ethanol blends have as much as 15 percent ethanol; gasoline typically has about 10 percent.

"His pitch was aimed squarely at farm-state voters who are at risk of breaking from Republicans over a trade agenda that has triggered retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports," writes Siobahn Hughes of The Wall Street Journal. "Trump’s ethanol proposal still has to go through a rulemaking process and runs the risk of legal challenges. Most notably his proposal faces fierce opposition from the oil industry, which has complained about the costs of increased ethanol use. But even if Mr. Trump’s ethanol push fails, it still could motivate midterm voters in farm states."

Matthew Daly reports for The Associated Press, "The long-expected announcement is something of a reward to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman led a contentious but successful fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The veteran Republican lawmaker is the Senate’s leading ethanol proponent and sharply criticized the Trump administration’s proposed rollback in ethanol volumes earlier this year."

Grassley and other Republican senators announced a tentative agreement to allow year-round E15 sales in May, but the Environmental Protection Agency didn't propose a rule change. Now EPA is expected to soon publish the change, along with restrictions on trading biofuel credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard that dictates how much ethanol and other renewable fuels refiners must blend into gasoline each year.

"The EPA currently bans the high-ethanol blend, called E15, during the summer because of concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days, a claim ethanol industry advocates say is unfounded," Daly notes. "A bipartisan group of lawmakers, many from oil-producing states, sent Trump a letter last week opposing expanded sales of high-ethanol gas," saying it wouldn't protect refinery jobs and could damage consumers' vehicles.

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