Two Minnesota Democrats in Congress want to revive a Trump Administration rule, recently struck down by a federal court, that allowed gasoline with higher levels of ethanol to be sold at the pumps all year and not restricted during the summer months.

"Farmers are finally seeing (commodity) prices go up, but now they're having to ask if there's still going to be a market there for corn ethanol," said Rep. Angie Craig, who is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar to bring back the year-round market for E15, a gas blend that's comprised of 15% of the corn-based fuel.

Supporters of ethanol, which now accounts for about 40% of the U.S. corn crop, tout it as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to carbon-based fuel, though that view is not universally shared by scientists. Most gasoline sold in the U.S. now is 10% ethanol.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court struck down a rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump Administration that lifted the long-standing restriction on selling E15 from June 1 to Sept. 15 as of the summer of 2019. The restriction originated in the federal Clean Air Act as a means of limiting air pollution from higher-volatility fuels during hotter months.

Klobuchar said ethanol advocates are still hopeful of getting the full D.C. District Court to reverse the ruling from a three-judge panel. If that's not successful, she said, then "we really need to fix it legislatively."

Klobuchar and Craig have assembled a bipartisan group of backers from corn-producing states, including Democratic Sen. Tina Smith and Republican Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach.

"This is just a no-brainer for supporting Minnesota agriculture," Smith said. She said higher ethanol blends would help keep liquid fuel prices stable and called it a reliable way to reduce carbon emissions.

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents the petroleum industry, had sought to strike down the year-round E15 sales. It's pitted them against agricultural industry groups that see biofuels as an economic opportunity for farmers.

"It's just so frustrating because we as an industry worked so hard to build confidence among consumers and fuel marketers and they've come to understand and appreciate the value the product offers," said Brian Thalmann, who farms corn and soybeans on about 2,000 acres near Plato and is active with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

The U.S. District Court ruling was the second legal blow to ethanol producers in recent weeks. At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court said some petroleum refiners would be able to exempt themselves from ethanol blending requirements.

"This really was a one-two punch for family farmers when it comes to the bio-fuels market, and that's such a significant part of the business for my corn growers," Craig said. She was first elected in 2018 to represent the Second District, which includes parts of the south Twin Cities metro along with rural areas to the south. Craig said about 60% of the total land in her district is covered by corn and soybean production.

While Craig said she supports a long-term move toward alternatives like electric vehicles, she said it's not feasible to expect a rapid shift that way in the next few years. "The cost is going to be prohibitive and I don't think it's particularly progressive to support that," she said.

But Jason Hill, a professor of bio-engineering systems at the University of Minnesota, said that as car engines have become more advanced, the environmental benefits of higher ethanol blends in gasoline have dwindled to nothing. The overall toll on the environment is higher from the full process of turning corn into fuel than it is for standard gasoline production, he said.

"Where it does make sense is a support for ethanol producers and corn producers," Hill said. "That's the only reason that corn ethanol makes sense."

Craig and Klobuchar said they are hopeful the Biden Administration would get on board with their bipartisan push. Biden's EPA defended the year-round sales in the court proceedings, and his Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, is a former Iowa governor and longstanding political supporter of ethanol.

Right now the court's ruling is stayed until August, and the lawmakers said they hope to move quickly to keep year-round sales in place without any interruption.