Just before the weekend, the Trump administration lifted a summertime ban on gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, the New York Times reported. The move, which is a boon to Midwest corn and soybean farmers hurt by both Trump's escalating trade war with China and catastrophic flooding, has made unlikely allies of the oil industry and environmental activists.
Currently, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, commonly known as E15, is banned during peak driving season from June 1 to Sept. 15. The ban exists because ethanol evaporates easily, especially in higher temperatures, which scientists say produces more nitrogen oxide. That pollutant increases ground-ozone concentrations, or smog, which is hazardous to respiratory health, according to Green Car Reports.
"We're doing this because it's a very important presidential priority," Bill Wehrum, who leads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) clean air office, said in a phone call with reporters, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
Wehrum deflected the ideas that the change came with environmental benefits. Instead, he noted that it would provide a "substantial additional market opportunity for ethanol producers," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The EPA's action, which drops rules and regulations imposed in 2011 to reduce smog, will face legal challenges from the oil industry and from environmental groups, claiming that the EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act, reports The Los Angeles Times.
"Allowing the year-round sale of E15 gasoline is both illegal under the Clean Air Act and will accelerate the destruction of wildlife habitat and pollution of our air, and drinking water," said Colin O'Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, in a statement reported The Hill.
"Instead of undermining public health protections, the White House should focus on using the EPA's upcoming rewrite of the ethanol mandate to promote cleaner, more sustainable fuels that support the rural economy while also protecting our air, drinking water, and wildlife habitat," he said in his statement.
"Corn ethanol is not appreciably better and is potentially worse than gasoline," said Jonathan Lewis, senior counsel with the Clean Air Task Force, to the Los Angeles Times. "The environmental effects of this rule are not a primary or even secondary concern, they just want to expand ethanol consumption."
Oil industry representatives point out that while the rule change may lower gas prices, its long-term effects are much more costly, since most cars are not equipped to burn E15 fuel.
"Extending this waiver is an anti-consumer policy that risks causing costly engine and fuel-system damage to nearly three out of four vehicles on the road today," said Frank Macchiarola, a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies, the New York Times reports. "This premature policy attempts to push E15 into the market before it is ready."
Green Car Reports suggests checking your owner's manual and the pump before refueling, lest you cause damage to your car's engine.