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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Friday that it has lifted a summertime ban on the use of E15, a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol. The move is designed to help corn and soybean farmers harmed by President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs.
Ethanol, made from corn and other crops, has been mixed into some types of gasoline for years as a way to reduce reliance on oil, among other things. However, burning ethanol-blended fuel in the summertime heat has a side effect of increasing smog — and for that reason the lifting of the ban raised objections from environmentalists. Oil companies also criticized the ending of the summertime ban because a wider use of ethanol will cut into their sales of gasoline.
Nevertheless, the change has the potential to reap political benefits for Mr. Trump as he gives the agriculture industry a policy change it has long sought. The formal lifting of the ban follows through on a promise Mr. Trump made to farmers on a trip to Iowa last fall, as he sought to shore up support for Republicans in the Midwest. The ban has been in place since 2011 and Mr. Trump has criticized it as “ridiculous.”
“I appreciate President Trump’s steadfast support for our patriotic farmers and for his commitment to expand the sale of E15 and unleash the full potential of American innovation and ingenuity as we continue to demonstrate our rightful place as the world’s leader in agricultural and energy production,” the Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
The summertime ban “made it very difficult to market E15,” said William Wehrum, the head of the clean air office at the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the ethanol regulations. “We think this will result in increasing the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline.”
Oil refiners are required to blend some ethanol into gasoline under a pair of laws, passed in 2005 and 2007, intended to lower the use of oil and greenhouse gas pollution by mandating increased levels of ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix every year. However, since passage of the 2007 law, the mandate has been met with criticism that it has contributed to increased fuel prices and has done little to lower greenhouse gas pollution.
Farm groups cheered the move.
“Removing outdated barriers and regulations is a commitment that this administration continues to make good on,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “After years of declining farm income, opening up markets to additional fuel choices for consumers helps create new demand that farmers desperately need.”
The oil industry and environmental groups criticized the move.
“Extending this waiver is an anti-consumer policy that risks causing costly engine and fuel-system damage to nearly three out of four vehicles on the road today,” said Frank Macchiarola, a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies. “This premature policy attempts to push E15 into the market before it is ready.”
Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement: “Allowing the year-round sale of E15 gasoline is both illegal under the Clean Air Act and will accelerate the destruction of wildlife habitat and pollution of our air, and drinking water.”
It is expected that both oil companies and environmental advocates will challenge the move in court.
For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate change, from the Washington bureau. She joined The Times in 2013 and previously worked at Congressional Quarterly, Politico and National Journal. @CoralMDavenport • Facebook
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