As something of a gift to Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who led the Senate Judiciary Committee through the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump is a move to allow the sale of gasoline with higher blends of ethanol on a year-round basis.
According to NBC News, Trump was expected to announce his decision to lift a federal ban on summertime sales of high-ethanol blends while he was in Iowa on Tuesday.
The long-expected announcement is something of a reward to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman led a contentious but successful fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The veteran Republican lawmaker is the Senate's leading ethanol proponent and sharply criticized the Trump administration's proposed rollback in ethanol volumes earlier this year.
At that time Grassley threatened to call for the resignation of the Environmental Protection Agency's chief, Scott Pruitt, if Pruitt did not work to fulfill the federal ethanol mandate. Pruitt later stepped down amid a host of ethics investigations.
The EPA currently bars the sale of high-ethanol blend E15 during the summer due to concerns that it worsens smog on hot days, though the ethanol industry disputes this claim.
The Trump administration’s change will allow year-round sales of E15.
Lifting the summer ban is expected to be coupled with new restrictions on trading biofuel credits that underpin the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly known as the ethanol mandate. The law sets out how much corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels refiners must blend into gasoline each year.
The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster the rural economy by requiring a steady increase in renewable fuels over time. The mandate has not worked as intended, and production levels of renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, routinely fail to reach minimum thresholds set in law.
The oil industry and some car makers oppose the use of high-ethanol blends, due to their potential for damaging car engines and fuel systems.
NBC said a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the president last week voicing opposition to the rule change:
The lawmakers called the approach "misguided" and said it would do nothing to protect refinery jobs and "could hurt millions of consumers whose vehicles and equipment are not compatible with higher-ethanol blended gasoline."
The letter was signed by 16 Republicans and four Democrats, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key Trump ally. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, whose state includes several refineries, also signed the letter.