Biden: Biofuels ‘have a role to play’ in easing gas prices

President announces year-round sales of 15 percent ethanol blends during Iowa visit

By: - April 12, 2022 5:35 pm

President Joe Biden touted the summertime sale of E15 in Menlo, Iowa on April 12, 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

MENLO, Ia. — In response to rising gas prices, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that fuel stations may sell cheaper, higher-ethanol blend fuels through the summer. 

“I’m here today because home-grown biofuels have a role to play right now… as we work to get prices under control and reduce the costs for families,” Biden told a small crowd of ethanol producers and industry leaders at the POET biofuels facility in Menlo.

The Environmental Protection Agency will allow gas stations to sell fuel with 15% ethanol through the summer, the White House announced Tuesday. Under current law, the 15% ethanol blend, known as E15, may not be sold from June to September due to concerns about air pollution.

“With this waiver, on June 1, you’re not going to show up at your local gas station and see a bag over the pump that has the cheapest gas,” Biden said. “You’re going to be able to keep filling up with E15.”

Iowa’s delegation has been calling for the change, arguing the year-round use of biofuels would bolster the industry, add to the fuel supply and potentially lower gas prices. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat representing Iowa’s 3rd District, introduced Biden at the event and praised the decision.

“Folks, I have been fighting tooth and nail for this, year after year,” she said.

It’s unclear how significantly the waiver will affect consumers. Ethanol blends are cheaper at the pump than other fuels, but there are only 2,300 gas stations nationwide that offer E15. Over 250 stations in Iowa sell E15, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Petroleum manufacturers told reporters last week they were doubtful boosting corn-based ethanol would be a salve for soaring fuel prices, especially in the short term.

“Not all retail gasoline outlets in this country are actually configured to sell higher blends of ethanol gasoline, and so it wouldn’t be an easy and immediate fix,” Susan Grisson, chief industry analyst for the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said.

Biden acknowledged that E15 was not readily available to all Americans.

“It’s not going to solve all our problems,” Biden said. “But it’s going to help some people.” 

Inflation report highest since 1981

Biden’s biofuels announcement came just hours ahead of new national inflation numbers. The Department of Labor reported an 8.5% increase in the price of consumer goods over the past 12 months – the largest single-year increase since 1981.

Gas prices saw some of the most significant change, with an 18.3% increase between February and March. 

Biden emphasized the effect Russia’s war in Ukraine has had on inflation due to the disruption particularly in fuel trade.

“Seventy percent of the increase in prices in March came from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s price hike in gasoline,” Biden said.

GOP praises biofuels waiver but targets Biden for inflation

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican members of Iowa’s D.C. delegation approved of the year-round E15 waiver. 

“Since early last year, Senator Grassley and I have been pushing this administration to lift the ban on E15 by the summer driving season – and at long last, the president has relented,” Sen. Joni Ernst said in a statement.

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks encouraged the administration to consider permanently allowing year-round sales.

“As America moves to completely cut off Russian energy imports, allowing summer E-15 sales is a great step toward increasing our domestic energy production and ensuring American energy independence,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement.

But Iowa Republicans also took aim at Biden for the inflation rate, arguing the increase was due to irresponsible spending by Democrats.

“Family budgets are tight and hardworking Iowans are stressed about making ends meet because of rising prices… While in Iowa today, President Biden must commit to stop overspending, not shift blame for skyrocketing prices,” Rep. Ashley Hinson said.

Biden said Democrats had lowered the deficit by $300 million and Congress was working to lower prescription drug costs and utility bills.

Biofuel groups celebrate summertime sales, environmental group objects

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, a group of biofuels producers, celebrated the change.

“With high fuel prices and energy security at the forefront of Americans’ minds, allowing nationwide sales of E15 is the single most important step the President is empowered to take to keep fuel costs down this summer while also promoting American-made energy, and we applaud President Biden for taking it,” Executive Director Monte Shaw said in a statement.

FUELIowa also approved of the waiver, but President Ronald Langston advocated for more federal funding for gas stations to expand their biofuels capability.

“Lifting the prohibition on the summer sale of E15 would be the first step toward making E15 more readily available to Iowans,” Langston said. “The critical issue for gas stations, particularly gas stations in rural communities, is the infrastructure necessary to store and dispense E15 safely and legally.”

Food & Water Action, a climate advocacy group, criticized the entire ethanol industry, pointing toward controversial proposed carbon pipelines in Iowa.

“Biden should use his executive authority to transition off polluting energy sources and give the public real clean energy alternatives to dirty fossil fuels, not displace them with polluting biofuels on the public’s dime,” Iowa organizer Emma Schmit said.

— Jared Strong contributed to this report.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.