EPA finalizes plan to expand ethanol use in gasoline this summer

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Gasoline that contains a higher percentage of ethanol should be available to drivers around the country this summer, the Trump administration announced Friday.

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a proposal to lift limits on the amount of ethanol in gasoline, saying it will expand the market for biofuels and generate a win for corn producers. Industry groups also said it will help the biofuel industry and give consumers more options at the pump.

“As President Trump promised, EPA is approving the year-round sale of E15 in time for summer driving season, giving drivers more choices at the pump," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release.

Trump said he would ask for the change at a campaign rally last March, months before the midterm elections. Expanding ethanol is seen as a way to boost markets for corn produced in Midwestern states and benefit political candidates that support expanded ethanol production.

The head of EPA’s air office, Bill Wehrum, said the proposal helps support renewable fuels and addresses concerns from the oil industry about the regulation of biofuels.

PHOTO: Gasoline prices are displayed on a pump at a station along the Interstate 85 and 40 corridor near Burlington, N.C., June 14, 2018. Gerry Broome/AP, FILE
Gasoline prices are displayed on a pump at a station along the Interstate 85 and 40 corridor near Burlington, N.C., June 14, 2018.

The EPA originally set limits on gasoline with 15% ethanol because of concerns the higher temperatures in the summer could lead to more air pollution. But Wehrum said he doesn't expect a noticeable impact because gasoline with 10% ethanol is already sold in the summer months.

"At the end of the day from an environmental standpoint this doesn't make any significant difference," he told reporters Friday.

Critics see the decision as an attempt by Trump to help farmers in the Midwest who have been hurt by the trade war with China and declining commodity prices. Corn growers have called for the administration to allow more ethanol and have opposed waivers from oil refineries exempting them from requirements to include a minimum amount of ethanol.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also applauded the decision in a statement, saying it will help farmers and consumers while the administration looks to grow the market for American-produced ethanol both in the U.S. and in other countries.

Many farmers are facing historic delays in planting corn crops due to severe flooding. Other efforts to help struggling farmers in states impacted by natural disasters have stalled in Congress.