NEW YORK — U.S. President Donald Trump will seek to lift a federal ban on summer sales of higher-ethanol blends of gasoline on Tuesday, a senior White House official said, delivering on a move long-sought by anxious Midwest farmers ahead of November's elections.
The move will be coupled with restrictions on biofuel credit trading sought by merchant refiners like Valero Energy Corp and PBF Energy Inc. Those rules would be aimed at retailers and oil majors accused by merchant refiners of driving up cost of complying with biofuels blending laws.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently prohibits summer sales of gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol, or E15, due to smog concerns.
Because ethanol is cheaper than gasoline, the administration hopes it will bring down retail prices, which currently average $2.91 a gallon, more than 40 cents higher than this time a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association.
The announcement will mark the end of a months-long effort by the White House to bring rival corn and oil industries together over reforms to boost ethanol demand while alleviating compliance costs for refiners.
Trump plans to hold a closed-door event with ethanol producers in Washington before a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Tuesday to highlight the change. Council Bluffs is in a moderate congressional district represented by incumbent Republican Dave Young, who is locked in a tight race.
"Rural America needs a shot in the arm, and this is it," said Emily Skor, chief executive officer of Growth Energy, a biofuel trade association.
Farmers have been frustrated with weak corn and soybean prices hurt by the trade war between the United States and China. China, the world's top market for soybeans, stopped buying them from the U.S., turning to South America instead. Trump has promised the trade war with China will eventually boost the U.S. economy.
Salve for refiners
The U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels like ethanol into the fuel pool annually, or buy credits from competitors who do. Refining companies that buy the credits have complained about volatile prices.
The EPA will consider forcing blenders, retailers and trading houses to sell credits more quickly, the official said. The agency may only allow obligated parties like refiners to buy credits, and may require greater public disclosure as well.
About 400 million gallons of E15 are sold in the U.S. annually, a fraction of the roughly 142 billion gallons in U.S. gasoline sales last year.
The American Petroleum Institute, the largest U.S. oil trade association, opposes lifting the ban, which would hurt their market share. They say E15 gasoline ruins older cars and potentially voids warranties, and have threatened to sue, arguing the EPA lacks the legal authority to strike the ban.
Writing by Humeyra Pamuk