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U.S. to soften stance on high-ethanol gas, usually banned in summer months

In bid to lower prices at the pump, the EPA will bend its rules on a gas blend with reputation for causing smog

President Joe Biden flew to Iowa on Tuesday to announce a new economic gambit in the face of 40-year inflation highs, saying the government will lift restrictions on a biofuel that will be cheaper than gasoline for Americans to buy at the fuel pump.

The emergency waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency removes a summertime ban on the gasoline blend E15, named for its 15% ethanol content. Less expensive than the traditional 10% ethanol formulation, the blend is normally forbidden between June 1 and Sept. 15 because of evidence that it contributes to smog and air pollution during hotter months.

Its new status is hardly a comprehensive solution to soaring fuel prices, however, as E15 gasoline is available only at an estimated 2,300 of the approximately 150,000 gas stations in America. The White House asserts that Americans who buy the blend will save about 10 cents off every gallon of gas, the average price of which is $4.10 nationwide today.

Because ethanol is made from corn, the E15 blend is widely promoted by farmers generally and Iowans specifically, as the country’s largest growers of corn.

“On June 1, you’re not going to show up to your local gas station and see a bag over the pump that has the the cheapest gas. You’re going to be able to keep filling up with the E15. That’s going to solve the whole problem. It’s not going to solve all our problems, but it’s going to help some people,” Biden said during a speech at an ethanol plant in Menlo, Iowa.

Biden’s announcement came the same day as the government released a report found that gas prices shot up 48% from March 2021 to March 2022, though average gas prices Tuesday were down approximately 20 cents from where they were a month ago, according to AAA.

That report also found consumer prices rose 8.5% over the last year, a rate of inflation not seen in more than 40 years.

“I grew up in a family, not a joke, where if the price of a gallon of gasoline went up, it was a conversation at our kitchen table. It mattered. To my mom and dad, it made a difference,” Biden said.

The White House has spent much of Biden’s presidency waging a fight to drive down high consumer and gas prices, issues spurred on by the pandemic and compounded in recent months by the war in Ukraine. Since President Vladimir Putin invaded Russia’s neighbor to the southeast back in February, global energy and food prices have gone up due to international dependence on Russian exports.

Biden announced late last month the largest-ever release of oil from America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, 1 million barrels a day, in the hopes that the plan would gradually lower gas prices over the coming months.

The president expressed optimism about his policies’ ability to address rising prices and transition the U.S. to renewable energies such as ethanol.

“We’re the only nation on Earth, if you think about it, that’s come out of every major crisis stronger than when we went in,” Biden said. “Literally ever major crisis we faced, we turned into an opportunity. That’s exactly what we’re going to do today.”

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Biden’s announcement came the same day as the government released a report found that gas prices shot up 48% from March 2021 to March 2022.