DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Fuel stations throughout the country will be able to sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol during the summer under an emergency waiver issued Friday by the Environmental Protection Agency in a move that could reduce prices at the pump and boost demand for the Midwest-based ethanol industry.
The EPA framed its decision as a way to reduce gasoline prices at a time of market supply uncertainty because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The agency said its action also encourages U.S. energy independence and supports American agriculture and manufacturing.
"Allowing E15 sales during the summer driving season will not only help increase fuel supply, but support American farmers, strengthen U.S. energy security, and provide relief to drivers across the country," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.
Most gasoline sold in the U.S. is blended with 10% ethanol and the higher 15% blend hasn't been allowed in the summer because of concerns it could worsen smog during hot weather.
The EPA said its analysis shows allowing sales of the higher blend shouldn't have a significant impact on air quality.
The agency estimated that E15 blends cost about 25 cents less per gallon at the pump than E10 blends.
The U.S. Department of Energy has found that vehicles will travel 3% to 4% fewer miles on E10 and 4% to 5% less on E15 than on 100% gasoline.
The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers industry group questioned the move, pointing to data from the Energy Information Administration, a part of the Energy Department.
"The U.S. market is well supplied with gasoline, which EIA data make clear," Chet Thompson, the organization's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Therefore, we're anxious to see how EPA is going to justify this decision in light of the statutory limitations and the agency's own understanding of emergency criteria, which require a finding of inadequate domestic supply in a specific geographic area."
Ethanol policy is especially important in the Midwest, where most of the roughly 200 renewable fuel plants are located. In 2022, those refineries produced over 15.4 billion gallons of ethanol, and the industry used about 45% of the nation's corn crop, roughly one-third of which was grown in Iowa and Illinois.
The industry has pushed for years to allow year-round sales of E15. In March, the EPA proposed to permanently allow the higher blends in eight Midwestern states beginning in 2024.
"EPA's action allowing summertime E15 will help extend gasoline supplies, prevent fuel shortages, protect air quality and reduce carbon emissions," said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association.