Desperate to ease the stress of inflation that has cast a shadow over an otherwise strong economy, President Joe Biden will soon allow gas stations to temporarily sell cheaper – but perhaps dirtier – fuel that is normally banned during the summer months over smog concerns. E15, a gas that uses a 15% ethanol blend, will be sold this summer driving season under an emergency waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency – a move the administration says can save Americans ten cents a gallon at the pump as inflation and Vladimir Putin‘s war in Ukraine drive prices to more than four dollars a gallon nationally.
“The President is committed to doing everything he can to address the pain Americans are feeling at the pump as a result of Putin’s Price Hike,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday announcing this exception to the Clean Air Act. “The Administration’s strategy to spur the development of homegrown biofuels is critical to expanding Americans’ options for affordable fuel in the short-term and to building real energy independence in the long-term by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”
The measure, which Biden will announce in a trip to Iowa Tuesday, was cheered on by supporters of E15, including Republican Senator Chuck Grassleywho has called for its year-round sale – something Donald Trump’s administration allowed in 2019 in an overture to farmers hurt by his trade war with China.
But experts have questioned how much of an impact the move will actually have on prices. “The Biden administration allowing the sale of higher ethanol gas to tame costs is a political gesture more than a real solution,” Rebecca Babina senior energy trader at CIBC Private Wealth US, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post. “The impact will be minimal from the perspective of medium term price relief.”
The ethanol waiver is the administration’s latest efforts to rein in runaway gas prices, which have clouded Biden’s economic boom. Two weeks ago, the White House announced it would release an additional million barrels of oil per day from the country’s strategic reserves, encourage more domestic production, and intensify its push to transition to clean energy to combat high gas prices. Those efforts appear to have been lost in the shuffle, as the war in Ukraine roils international markets – and as Biden and the Democrats combat midterm attacks from Republicans over inflation, which rose 8.5% over 12 months ending in March, the biggest spike in more than 40 years, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Tuesday. (Real wages, meanwhile, have continued to fall, with pay increases the administration has touted failing to keep up with inflation.)
The administration’s efforts to prevent gas prices from surging further have seemed to put Biden climate priorities on the backburner, despite dire warnings from the United Nations that the window to address global warming is closing. “Inflation is rising. The war in Ukraine is causing food & energy prices to skyrocket, ” Antonio Guterresthe UN secretary-general, tweeted Monday. “But increasing fossil fuel production will only make matters worse.”
Proponents of E15 argue that it is less dirty than other types of fuel, and the White House said in its statement Tuesday that it will work to “ensure there are no significant air quality impacts through the summer driving season.” But detractors have long warned that increasing ethanol could lead to more smog and greenhouse gas emissions. Those environmental concerns are taking a back seat, for now, to more immediate economic and political concerns.
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