Energy & Environment

White House announces plan to expand ethanol use linked to increased pollution

The White House on Monday rolled out a new plan that would allow higher blends of ethanol in vehicle fuels, amid concerns that the change could lead to more air pollution.

The administration’s memo calls to extend the sale of E15 — consisting of 15 percent of ethanol blended into gasoline — year round. The fuel was blocked between June 1 and Sept. 15, as science shows burning ethanol in warmer temperature leads to heightened ground-level ozone pollution and smog.

A senior White House official said the plan was part of President Trump’s free market plan.

{mosads}“This action is basically specifically directed at increasing the supply of biofuels and providing consumer choice and in line with the president’s approach to propping up the free market,” the official told reporters on a call.

“The president has repeatedly stated his support of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) program and thinks it’s good to have domestically created fuel here and think it will be good for the agriculture industry overall.”

Through the memo, the White House will ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to formally draft a regulation allowing for the use of E15 year-round. No formal text has yet been provided. The rule will go through a formal comment period, the official said.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency will follow the president’s direction “and proceed as expeditiously as practicable.”

“He is fulfilling his promise by providing clear policy direction that will expand opportunities for our nation’s farmers, provide certainty to our refiners and bolster the United States’ role as a biofuels powerhouse,” the spokesperson said.

But the plan is likely to hit a few major roadblocks. The EPA has concluded as recently as 2011 that it could not allow the use of E15 due to the air pollution restrictions regulated under the Clean Air Act. A number of outside environmentalist groups have additionally vowed to sue over any change to the fuel policy.

While ethanol is a renewable fuel thats increased usage could potentially offset the burning and mining of fossil fuels, a number of studies have found that burning the gas is not any cleaner, and in some instances more harmful.

“The limits exist in the Clean Air Act for a reason. Ethanol blended in gasoline does produce more pollutants that lead to smog than gasoline alone. So by increasing the amount from 10 percent to 15 percent, that breaks those limits that are in the Clean Air Act and could potentially lead to more ozone formation,” said David DeGennaro, agricultural policy specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.

The Senior White House official emphasized that the memo is focused on increasing the biofuel market and “isn’t directly related to climate change.”

The administration’s announcement comes a day after the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released a report that found the world needs to decrease emissions by 45 percent by 2030 or else the atmosphere could surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

The report was conducted at the behest of negotiators for the Paris climate agreement who asked the IPCC to study what must be done in order to limit climate rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. The president announced he was pulling the United States out of the agreement last summer.

Trump’s move is championed by corn growers, as it would likely expand the market of ethanol, but opposed by representatives of the oil and gas industry. Trump made a promise during the 2016 Iowa Caucus that he would remove the restrictions on E15.

In April, the president signaled that the change was imminent, telling reporters at the White House of gasoline blends, “We’re going to raise it up to 15 percent and raise it to a 12-month period.”

The change would essentially waive E15 from national vapor-pressure requirements under the Clean Air Act.

Additionally, the White House memo will direct EPA to consider other measures to help stabilize and make more transparent the renewable identification number (RIN) market.

Currently refiners and importers of natural gas must blend their fuels with ethanol before sales or purchase RINs sold on the market.

The administration’s RIN reform would include requiring public disclosure of RIN, limit the length of time that nonrefineries or importers can hold a RIN and improve compliance obligations on a more frequent basis.

— Timothy Cama contributed.

Tags Biofuel Donald Trump Ethanol Gasoline

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