Biden administration pushes towards energy independence with new ethanol blending repeals


Bernd Dittrich via Unsplash

Ethanol is a domestic biofuel made from any source of starch, mainly corn.

Anagha Sudhindra, Copy Editor

The ongoing tragedies associated with the Russia-Ukraine conflict influenced the United States to install a boycott on Russian oil in support of Ukraine. But an unsavory byproduct has entailed: the prices of gas in the United States have skyrocketed.The exuberant gas prices every American is now so familiar with have been severely straining the national economy and American families, influencing Biden to initiate a self-reliant energy process intended to cut the cost of gas. 

Biden visited Menlo, Iowa, a small rural town just west of Des Moines, on Tuesday, April 12, to announce the waiving of various rules restricting ethanol blending

Ethanol blending is the process of adding ethanol to gasoline to create a cheaper, cleaner energy source. Most gasoline sold in the U.S. is blended with 10% ethanol (E10). Biden recently announced an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signature on a waiver allowing the widespread sale of 15% ethanol blend (E15) in efforts to reduce the reliance on foreign oil. 

E15 is typically prohibited in the summer months, between June 1 and Sept. 15, due to concerns regarding an excessive smog output from the manufacturing and burning of ethanol in high, humid temperatures. The EPA determined that this emergency step will likely have negligible influences on air quality in the summer months, but some environmentalists are apprehensive about the associated consequences of an increase in ethanol consumption. 

A simulation conducted by environmental engineer Mark Jacobson of Stanford University revealed that overuse of ethanol reduced the levels of carcinogens benzene and butadiene but increased levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. These results led many to believe that an increase in ethanol could be detrimental to the environment across the nation. 

Junior Phil Lin stressed the importance of preserving nature in such scenarios. “I believe lifting the ban on E15 gas is a bad idea because it causes more pollution in the environment. The increased production of ethanol will grow our local economy, but it is not worth the environmental harms,” he stated. 

The conflict between commerce and nature is the primary consideration the Biden administration must take before jumping into new policies and legislations in order to escape dire long-term environmental consequences. 

But the Biden administration seems to bank on the positive aspects associated with the increased use of ethanol. Ethanol, though a possible contributor to environmental smog, does not contribute to carbon emissions. Since ethanol is a plant-based biofuel, the carbon dioxide taken in by the plant when grown, balances the carbon emissions when the fuel is burned, resulting in a net zero carbon footprint. 

An increase in ethanol production will also severely boost the rural economy, bringing more demand for Midwestern products. In addition, ethanol blends are significantly cheaper to produce than pure gasoline. Biden estimates a cut of 10 cents per gallon nationwide, a modest step towards normalcy and self-reliant energy. 

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassely is in full favor of this repeal. “Homegrown Iowa biofuels provide a quick and clean solution for lowering prices at the pump, and bolstering production would help us become energy independent once again,” he stated. Sen. Grassely was one of the 16 Midwestern senators who sent Biden a letter urging for an increase in ethanol production in an attempt to bring new business and capital to the Midwest. 

Energy independence is a significant plus in today’s conflict-riddled world. The American boycott of Russian oil, which only accounted for a meager 2% of American oil imports, spiked gas prices so severely and impacted countless families nation-wide. The increase in ethanol production will help bridge the gap between foregin oil reliance and self-sustained energy, allowing the U.S. to remain prosperous even in times of foreign conflict. 

President Biden is increasingly supportive of American energy. “Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away,” President Biden stated, referencing Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Biden visited Iowa for the first time since his presidential election, and many believe his involvement with the rural community will increase his popularity at the polls. 

Junior Caleb Brand actively follows such policies impacting his home state. He found these new legislations to be not only beneficial to the Iowan economy but also in favor of broadening Biden’s voter base. “Initially Biden was fourth in the Iowa caucus because of his unpopularity in rural communities. But I think him coming here and making this decision to increase ethanol usage will drastically increase his popularity, at least in the state of Iowa,” he stated. 

Biden must drastically win over Republican support now, as his domestic agenda has been skewed by the pandemic and severe inflation. His plans for low unemployment and middle class benefits ultimately fell off course, causing Republicans to lose faith and point fingers. But this new energy infrastructure in the Midwest might be enough to reclaim the rural constituency. 

The increased use of ethanol poses many positives and negatives for the environment and economy, but Biden’s move towards self-sufficient energy will hopefully forge a new path through this stagnant market state.