The Trump administration will seek to reform two parts of the nation’s policy to promote biofuels, marking its latest attempt to reach a mutually beneficial outcome for two of the president’s key constituencies: the fossil fuel industry and farm states.
President Donald Trump will order acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to start the process of lifting a summertime ban on the sale of E15, a type of gasoline-biofuel blend, according to a senior White House official. The change is calculated to shore up demand for biofuels such as corn-based ethanol and boost the fortunes of farmers.
E15 sales are currently blocked from the beginning of June through the middle of September because the fuel blend does not meet ozone standards spelled out in the Clean Air Act.
At the same time, the Trump administration will aim to limit speculation in the market for biofuel credits, the official told reporters Monday. The nation’s refiners have long complained that the obscure market is flawed, resulting in price spikes that drive up the cost of complying with federal rules and putting financial pressure on small refineries.
Trump will headline a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Tuesday evening. He is expected to issue the orders prior to the event.
Both issues fall under the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard, a 2005 program that requires American refineries to blend biofuels into transportation and heating fuel. The program was designed to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuels, cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and bolster the domestic biofuel industry.
Trump has walked a tightrope on the issue throughout his presidency. His Environmental Protection Agency has angered farm states by granting more waivers than usual to small refineries, denting demand for biofuels. Meanwhile, refiners have been disappointed by the EPA’s refusal to cut the amount of biofuel they’re required to blend into gasoline and diesel.
On Tuesday, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers called the proposal to allow year-round E15 sales “ill-conceived” and “unlawful.”
“We are disappointed to see that despite good-faith efforts by refiners to find potential solutions, the Administration has unilaterally embraced a one-sided approach that only serves the ethanol community, which has shown little interest in finding common ground,” Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the trade group said in a statement.
The president has sought a path forward with corn-state senators, such as Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, as well as energy district lawmakers, including Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. However, a solution has so far eluded the White House.
Trump now wants the EPA to issue a waiver to allow summertime sale of E15, a fuel composed of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.
The senior White House official said the action is “directed at increasing the supply of biofuels and providing consumer choice and is in line with the president’s free market approach to the energy market.” Asked about potential lawsuits, the official said the White House believes issuing a waiver would survive legal scrutiny.
The administration will also start the federal rule-making process to address the energy industry’s concerns about the market for biofuel credits, the official said.
Refiners generate the credits — known as Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs — when they blend biofuels into gasoline. Refiners that aren’t able to blend biofuels must purchase RINs from their competitors.
New regulations under consideration include limiting trading in the credits to refiners and fuel importers, the official said. That would cut out traders who are not linked to refining businesses but are allowed to trade in RINs. Refiners often blame these traders for wild price swings that can raise the cost of compliance for small refineries.
RINs prices were particularly volatile last year. Analysts say Trump’s decision to appoint the billionaire investor Carl Icahn as a regulatory advisor fed that volatility. Icahn holds a majority stake in refinery operator CVR Energy and sought changes to biofuels rules that would benefit refiners, but the administration did not adopt his ideas.
It is uncertain whether Trump’s new proposals would appease farm state senators. Sens. Grassley and Ernst rejected Cruz’s proposal to cap RINs prices following a White House meeting in February.