By Brooke S. Appleton
It was like a scene out of a Hollywood movie. Just as it looked as though the oil industry had succeeded in ending consumer access to higher levels of ethanol – a biofuel that is environmentally friendly and cuts gas prices – over the summer months, President Biden makes an eleventh-hour decision to use his emergency powers to allow for consumer choice.
Yet, this wasn’t something out of Hollywood; it was reality. I was pleased to travel to Menlo, Iowa, on April 12 to watch the president tell a barn full of farmers that he would use his emergency authority to extend access to 15% ethanol blended fuel, or E15, through this summer.
The president’s announcement comes after two years of legal drama, in which the oil industry, looking after its own profit margin, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to end access to E15 during the summer months. A court ruled in 2021 that the EPA had acted outside of its authority, and, as a result, access to E15 was set to end over the summer months, each year, starting this June.
The consequences to ending access to E15, even for a few months, would have been serious for consumers and the U.S. economy. Gas prices would have risen even more than they already have; greenhouse gas emissions would have increased; and rural communities and farmers would have felt the economic effect of a shrinking demand for ethanol.
Many thought getting the president to step in was a long shot. Afterall, he’s dealing with a deadly pandemic, rising inflation, a devastating war in Europe and a host of other issues. But corn grower leaders understood that all the president’s travails were a recipe for a winning argument for higher uses of ethanol.
Corn grower leadership alongside the ethanol industry have been making the argument to administration officials and Congress that ethanol is a tool that can help the president address many of the country’s problems, from climate change to a sluggish economy. Timing was of the essence with the deadline quickly approaching, but just as it looked as though there wasn’t much hope, we received word from the White House that the president was to give a speech in Iowa the next day.
Mystery abounded, flights were booked, holding statements were drafted. Surely, we thought, the president wouldn’t give a speech in Iowa if he weren’t going to make an announcement about E15. Then official word finally came in the evening beforehand from the White House that the president would intervene on the matter in favor of consumers and corn growers.
Now we look to next steps.
As we look to build on this momentum, we encourage Congress to advance the Next Generation Fuels Act. The Next Generation Fuels Act highlights ethanol’s unique ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while unlocking new engine efficiency gains, allowing consumers to drive further between fill-ups.
The bill will not only help further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will also help lower gas prices, help family farms and revitalize rural economies.
Whether it’s combatting climate change, helping lower soaring fuel prices or helping rural communities and family farms, there is something in the Next Generation Fuels Act for Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s why we are continuing to work to garner bipartisan support for this landmark legislation.
So, we’re leaving one movie and moving to the sequel. Like all movies, we have villains, heroes and many twist, turns and surprises. But unlike a movie, the outcomes of these efforts have a real impact on real people.
That’s why we take time to savor this victory while preparing for the next.
Appleton is vice president of public policy at the National Corn Growers Association.