WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin a rule-making process that would lead to year-round sales of fuel that is 15 percent ethanol.
The move has long been sought by Minnesota corn farmers who sell part of their crops to ethanol producers.
The president’s order is designed to help the country’s agricultural sector, as well as the economy as a whole, but was “not directly related to climate change,” a senior White House official told reporters on a call Monday.
E-15, as 15 percent ethanol is known, is currently available eight months of the year, while 10 percent ethanol is available all year. Summer is when the annual ban on E-15 sales kicks in under current regulations, which were conceived as anti-pollution measures but that the ethanol industry says are outdated and unnecessary.
E-15 usually costs 10 cents less per gallon than E-10.
Moving E-15 to a 12-month sales schedule should make it easier to sell and distribute the blend, which is better for the environment and will provide more of a market for corn, supporters say.
“It is a huge, huge deal,” said Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and a corn and soybean farmer near Plato.
“This is right among our top priority issues,” said Tim Rudnicki, executive director of the Minnesota Biofuels Association.
Minnesota is the nation’s fourth-largest corn producer and also ranks fourth among states in U.S. ethanol production, annually churning out at least 1.2 billion gallons of the fuel. There are 19 operating ethanol plants in Minnesota, and the state is a top — if not the largest — provider of retail E-15 in the United States.
The Trump administration’s year-round E-15 sales rule is targeted for approval before the summer of 2019, the senior official said. Vehicles made after 2001 can use E-15.
The idea of year-round E-15 sales is anathema to the oil industry, which claims the EPA doesn’t have the authority to allow it and that E-15 is corrosive to automobile engines.
In addition to allowing full-time E-15 sales, the administration wants to change the ways refiners are able to buy and sell renewable identification numbers (RINs) that demonstrate that a refiner has complied with the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS). The RFS establishes how many gallons of ethanol individual refiners must produce each year.
Trump wants to stabilize the RINs market, where prices have varied from 3 cents to more than a dollar, the White House official said in the conference call.
RINs trade like currency and can help provide relief for refiners, usually smaller operations, who can’t afford — or don’t want to pay for — technology needed to make ethanol at their facilities. Anticipated changes will include limiting sales of RINs to refiners and importers, limiting the time RINs can be held and making owners of RINs disclose the size of their holdings if they exceed a certain amount.