Car Industry

Children of the corn: Trump admin to loosen ethanol regulations, report says

It would be a boon to farmers, but it could cause some big issues in certain vehicles.

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Right now, the sale of gasoline with up to 15-percent ethanol content (E15) is only allowed during the winter months. But, according to a new report, that rule isn't long for this earth.

The Trump administration will move to allow year-round sales of E15 gasoline, the Associated Press reports, citing a senior administration official speaking on condition of anonymity. The AP says that the announcement could come as early as Tuesday evening when President Trump visits Iowa, with the EPA laying out the official changes in the following days.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the EPA did not confirm this move, but the spokesperson didn't deny it, either. "President Trump has made strengthening the Renewable Fuel Standard an important priority of this administration," an EPA spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "He is fulfilling his promise by providing clear policy direction that will expand opportunities for our nation's farmers, provide certainty to our refiners and bolster the United States' role as a biofuels powerhouse. EPA will follow the president's direction and proceed as expeditiously as practicable."

According to the AP's report, E15 could go on sale in warmer months as early as next summer. Currently, the sale of E15 is limited in a majority of the country to a period of time starting in June and ending in September. The reason for doing so is simple -- it's claimed that higher-ethanol gasoline blends result in more smog on hot days, but as the AP notes, the ethanol industry says that claim is unfounded.

This move is sure to bolster support in states where wide swaths of farmland are dedicated to producing corn, including Iowa. With Chinese tariffs on corn hitting farmers where it counts, a move to put more corn in the nation's gasoline would help shore up any potential financial difficulties as a result of the country's growing trade war.

Drivers are more likely to notice the drop in fuel prices than the drop in fuel economy that would also accompany year-round E15 sales.

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Blended gasoline generally gets cheaper as ethanol content rises, as well. Thus, a move to introduce year-round E15 might result in lower prices at the gas pump, which motorists are sure to enjoy.

However, increasing the ethanol supply in gasoline will have drawbacks, too. While it's been cleared for use in light-duty vehicles (model year 2001 and after) since 2011, some automakers still request that owners not put E15 in their vehicles. Higher alcohol content can wreak havoc on old rubber seals, and it's still not certified for use in power equipment like lawnmowers and outboard motors. It can also cause a number of issues in carbureted vehicles, which classic-car owners will definitely not enjoy.

E15 will also likely result in your vehicle returning worse fuel economy. Increasing ethanol content in a gallon of gasoline also reduces its energy density, which means a gallon of gas won't get you as far as it would if it had less ethanol. Flex-fuel vehicles, which are capable of operating on gasoline that's up to 85 percent ethanol (E85), run less efficiently than they do on regular gas, sort of negating E85's lower cost.

It's unclear how this proposed rule change will be implemented. Reuters reports that the government will need to fast track any reforms for them to be enacted by next summer. Lawsuits from the oil industry will likely arrive hot on the heels of any official announcement, as well, which could complicate matters further.

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