Is Biden right to allow summer use of ethanol gasoline (E15) to reduce gas prices?

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Fact Box

  • Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from plant materials that comes in three blends as a mixture of ethanol and gasoline (E10, E85, and E15). The US Environmental Protection Agency approved E15 for conventional vehicles newer than 2001 models for “upgrading equipment and better profit margins when compared with regular gasoline.” 
  • On April 13, 2022, President Biden announced a solution to lessen gas prices by issuing a waiver to sell a “15% ethanol blend that is usually prohibited between June 1 and Sept. 15 because of concerns that it adds to smog in high temperatures.” 
  • Biden ended the 12 year battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline after he decided to revoke the permit for construction his first day in office. In March 2017, President Trump announced approval of the presidential permit for the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. 
  • As of April 13, 2022, AAA reported the national gas price average was $4.083 which is compared to $2.861 from the previous year. The highest recorded price was $4.331 on March 11, 2022. 
  • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the latest inflation rate at 8.5% which was a 1.2% increase for all items (gasoline, shelter, food).

Siam (Yes)

To counter the high price of gasoline, the Biden administration has rightly permitted the summer use of E15 gasoline. Under current rules by the EPA, the sale of E15 gasoline was previously banned during the summers—but times are different today. The average gas price in the nation hovers around $4.11 per gallon, greatly straining many families' budgets. So this initiative by the White House will help in several ways. 

Firstly, the E15 gasoline is cheaper by 10-15 cents a gallon than regular gasoline. This will presumably help put money back in the pockets of American drivers. The second goal of this initiative is to encourage Americans to lower their reliance on imported oil and use homegrown biofuels, which will presumably help Americans become less dependent on foreign oil—the more expensive option. Thirdly, there will be no limits on the amount of E15 gasoline available, leading to more state and federal taxes.

In the past, it has always been believed that E15 gasoline may be bad for the environment and contribute to smog, but no hard data to confirm this is available. This permission by the EPA to use E15 through the summer months is a chance to undertake a study to look at the environmental impact of E15 gasoline. If no negative effects are seen, then E15 gasoline will then be available all year round.

While this is not the complete answer to America's energy problems, this move by the Biden administration shows initiative to spur more investments into biofuels. At the same time, Biden has agreed to release at least 180 million barrels of oil from the federal reserves to help ease the high gas prices. Together, this is just what is needed to bring gas prices back down.

Morgan (No)

While President Biden claims the transition to summer use of ethanol gasoline will decrease gas prices, this shift is really only projected to save 10 cents per gallon—not much in savings when gas prices have hit record highs in recent months. Unfortunately for consumers, this decision is more likely to have a political drive than a financial one. The assumption that this decision is more about politics than saving Americans money is based on the fact that Biden says this is a step towards energy independence for the country. This claim, coupled with the minimal 'savings' expected to result from the shift, points to the move being politically driven but presented as something meant to help Americans.

The E15 blend releases more smog during warmer weather—hence why its sale is typically banned during summer months. It may save consumers some money now, but it will increase hardship for everyone later down the line as we have to deal with the cost and health consequences of an unhealthy climate. In addition to being harmful to us and the planet (as if that weren't enough to clarify how bad this idea is), E15 is also not suitable for all vehicles, meaning not everyone will benefit from the minimal financial savings the transition offers. E15 is only recommended for cars newer than 2001, and it still shouldn't be used in some newer car models, as marginally cheaper fuel is not worth the cost of a damaged car. The energy level of E15 is also slightly lower than that of standard E10, meaning less fuel efficiency in some vehicles and more frequent fill-ups, defeating the purpose of lowering the cost in the first place.

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