In a move that is sure to thrill the agricultural community, President Trump will end certain restrictions on selling gasoline containing a higher percentage of ethanol. The decision is intended largely to satisfy U.S. corn producers and ethanol manufacturers and will have only minimal effects on the vast majority of U.S. drivers.
Ethanol is an alcohol manufactured from corn or sugar cane that is blended with gasoline in order to reduce detrimental environmental emissions. Legislation passed during the Bush administration mandated mixing increasing amounts of ethanol with gasoline supplies in the United States, but the purpose of ethanol in our gasoline is not simply to protect the environment. It was also originally expected to help minimize America’s dependence on foreign oil, since the ethanol was produced domestically. However, ethanol also has negative impacts on the environment, and it can be harmful to our cars. Plus, the use of ethanol in gasoline distorts the gasoline market and even increases the cost of the food we buy in supermarkets.
Trump’s new executive action would end EPA regulations that prevent selling a blend of gasoline called E15 during the summer months. Most gasoline available in the United States is blended with up to 10% ethanol. E15 gasoline is a blend of gasoline made with anywhere from 10.5% to 15% ethanol. The EPA has prohibited the sale of E15 between June and September, because the agency says it emits more particles into the atmosphere than smog-regulations permit. Ethanol producers disagree with this assessment.
Interestingly, though, E15 is not widely used or even available to most motorists in the United States. The EPA has approved E15 for use in light-vehicles manufactured since 2001, but unless your car is a FuelFlex vehicle, not all vehicles are designed to accept E15 fuel. Drivers should check their owner’s manuals to make sure they are not voiding their warranties if they use it. Some drivers may be tempted to use E15, because it has a higher octane level than regular gasoline and also costs less than premium brands.
The vast majority of American motorists won’t notice any changes based on this new regulation. Most gasoline supplies in the United States year-round will continue to contain no more than 10% ethanol. However, those who drive FuelFlex vehicles or do use E15, will now be able to use it in the summer months too. And the farmers who produce corn and sugar cane (as well as the ethanol refiners) will be a little happier, too.