Biden waives ethanol rule in bid to lower gas prices

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden travels to corn-rich Iowa on Tuesday to announce he will suspend a federal rule preventing the sale of higher-blend gasoline this summer as his administration tries to cut pump prices that soared during Russia’s war with Ukraine.

Most gasoline sold in the United States is blended with 10% ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency will issue an emergency waiver to allow the widespread sale of a 15% ethanol blend that is generally banned between June 1 and September 15 due to concerns it adds smog to high temperatures.

Top Biden administration officials said the move would save drivers an average of 10 cents per gallon at 2,300 gas stations. These stations are mostly found in the Midwest and South, including Texas, according to industry groups.

The move comes as Biden faces mounting political pressure on inflation, as new data on Tuesday showed prices rising at the fastest pace in more than 40 years, in part due to soaring prices. energy during the Russian-Ukrainian war. The Labor Department said Tuesday its consumer price index jumped 8.5% in March from 12 months earlier, the biggest year-over-year increase since December 1981.

Gasoline prices accounted for more than half of the monthly price increase. Food and housing costs also spiked in March in ways that could weigh on families. Inflation began to pick up last year amid strong hiring after the passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, a challenge for U.S. consumers that the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine then amplified.

Administration officials said the EPA has begun analyzing the “emergency” step of allowing more E15 gasoline sales for the summer and has determined it is not likely to change. have significant impacts on air quality in the field. This is despite the fact that some environmentalists have long argued that more ethanol in gas increases pollution.

Biden is to announce the move to a biofuels business in Menlo, west of Des Moines. Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of corn, essential for ethanol production.

The waiver is another effort to help calm global energy markets that have been rocked since Russia invaded Ukraine. Last month, the president announced that the United States would release 1 million barrels of oil a day from the country’s strategic petroleum reserve over the next six months. His administration said that has helped push gasoline prices down slightly of late, after averaging around $4.23 a gallon in late March, down from $2.87 the same time ago. a year, according to AAA.

“Not only is this decision a major victory for American drivers and our country’s energy security, but it means cleaner options at the pump and a stronger rural economy,” said Emily Skor, Group CEO of the Growth Energy biofuels trade association, in a statement.

Members of Congress from both parties had also urged Biden to grant the E15 waiver.

“Local Iowa biofuels offer a quick, clean solution to lower prices at the pump and boost production would help us become energy independent again,” said Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. He was among nine Republican senators and seven Democrats from Midwestern states who sent Biden a letter last month urging him to allow year-round E15 sales.

The trip will be Biden’s first as president to Iowa, where his 2020 presidential campaign limped to a fourth-place finish in the state’s technologically glitchy caucus.

After bouncing back to win the Democratic nomination, Biden returned for a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds four days before Election Day 2020, only to see Donald Trump win the state by 8 points. percentage.

Biden returns to the state at a time when he faces even greater political peril. He is grappling with falling approval ratings and inflation at its highest level in 40 years, while his party faces the prospect of big midterm election losses that could cost him control of Congress.

The president also planned to promote his economic plans to help rural families struggling with higher costs, while highlighting the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure law signed into law last fall. The law includes funds to improve internet access, as well as to upgrade sanitation systems, reduce flood threats, and improve roads and bridges, drinking water and electricity grids in sparsely populated areas. .

“Some of this is showing up in communities of all sizes, regardless of the results of the last election,” said Jesse Harris, who served as a senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign in Iowa and led polling efforts and early voting for Barack. Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Harris said most presidents who visit Iowa typically travel to the state’s largest cities. Hitting an area like Menlo, which is part of Guthrie County, which backed Trump over Biden by 35 percentage points in 2020, “is a testament to the importance the administration places on infrastructure in general, but also on infrastructure in communities.” rural and smaller communities”.

The Biden administration plans to spend the coming weeks pushing billions of dollars in funding for rural areas. Cabinet members and other senior officials will travel the country to help communities access funds available under the infrastructure program.

“The president is not making this trip through a political prism,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “He’s making this trip because Iowa is a rural state in the country that would benefit greatly from the president’s policies.”

Still, administration officials have long suggested Biden is traveling more to promote an economy that rebounds from the setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of Americans receiving unemployment has fallen to the lowest levels since 1970, for example.

But much of the positive jobs news nationwide has been overshadowed by soaring gas, food and housing prices that have offset wage gains.

“Maybe a trip back to Iowa will be just what Joe Biden needs to figure out what his reckless spending and big government policies are doing to our country,” the Republican Party chairman said. Iowa, Jeff Kaufmann, in a statement.

After Iowa, Biden will travel Thursday to Greensboro, North Carolina.

PSAKI blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine for helping to push up gasoline prices and said the administration expects the consumer price index for March to be “extremely high “, in large part because of this.

The EPA has lifted seasonal restrictions on E15 in the past, including after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Trump administration allowed E15 sales during the summer months two years later, but the rule was overturned by a federal appeals court.

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