WASHINGTON — President Biden announced on Tuesday a plan to suspend a ban on summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends, a move that White House officials said was aimed at reducing gas prices but that energy experts predicted would have only a marginal impact at the pump.
The Environmental Protection Agency will issue a waiver that would allow the blend known as E15 — which is made of 15 percent ethanol — to be used between June 1 and Sept. 15. The White House estimated that approximately 2,300 stations in the country offer the blend and cast the decision as a move toward “energy independence.”
“E15 is about 10 cents a gallon cheaper,” Mr. Biden said, speaking after taking a tour of a production facility that produces 150 million gallons of bioethanol annually. “And some gas stations offer an even bigger discount than that.”
“When you have a choice, you have competition,” Mr. Biden added. “When you have competition, you have better prices.”
The decision to lift the summertime ban comes as Mr. Biden faces growing pressure to bring down energy prices, which helped drive the fastest rate of inflation since 1981 in March. A gallon of gas was averaging $4.10 on Tuesday, according to AAA. Last month, the president announced a plan to release one million barrels of oil a day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the next six months.
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Ethanol is made from corn and other crops and has been mixed into some types of gasoline for years as a way to reduce reliance on oil. But the blend’s higher volatility can contribute to smog in warmer weather. For that reason, environmental groups have traditionally objected to lifting the summertime ban, as have oil companies, which fear greater use of ethanol will cut into their sales.
How much the presence of ethanol holds down fuel prices has been a subject of debate among economists. Some experts said the decision was likely to reap larger political benefits than financial ones.
“This is still very very small compared with the strategic petroleum reserve release,” said David Victor, a climate policy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “This one is much more of a transparently political move.”
Lawmakers in corn-producing states have been urging Mr. Biden to use biofuels to fill the gap created by the United States ban on importing Russian oil.
Oil refiners are required to blend some ethanol into gasoline under a pair of laws, passed in 2005 and 2007, intended to reduce the use of oil and the creation of greenhouse gases by mandating increased levels of ethanol in the nation’s fuel mix every year. However, since passage of the 2007 law, the mandate has been met with criticism that it has contributed to increased fuel prices and has done little to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
A study last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that corn-based ethanol was at least 24 percent more carbon-intensive than gasoline when emissions from land-use changes to grow corn, along with processing and combustion, were included.
“Corn ethanol is a greater emitter of greenhouse gases than gasoline,” said Jason Hill, a professor of bioproducts and biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota.
“This will actually work in the opposite direction of the administration’s climate goals rather than being a benefit,” Mr. Mills said.
A White House senior administration official on Monday pushed back on that study, arguing that “a number of analyses” have that shown corn-based ethanol cuts greenhouse gas emissions more than 40 percent compared with gasoline.