Colorado corn growers on Thursday were excited to hear President Donald Trump say his administration will probably increase the amount of corn ethanol allowed in gasoline to 15 percent, with sales permitted year-round instead of only during winter, spring and fall.
Most gasoline currently contains about 10 percent ethanol, and higher levels of ethanol are banned during hot summer months due to concerns about increased smog – something the corn ethanol industry disputes.
“We’re going to be going probably, probably to 15 [percent] and we’re going to be going to a 12-month period,” Trump said at a White House meeting, according to Reuters. “We’re going to work out something during the transition period, which is not easy, very complicated.”
In 2016, Colorado ranked 15th among corn-producing states, accounting for just over 1 percent of the nation’s overall production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But Colorado corn growers had become increasingly nervous in recent weeks, with China threatening to imposed tariffs on corn imports to combat Trump administration moves to hit Chinese goods with higher tariffs in order to correct a trade imbalance.
And nationally, corn growers were even more concerned that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt would cave to oil industry demands to dramatically change the federal Renewable Fuel Standard that mandates the blending of ethanol with gasoline.
“While the White House weighs options, the EPA continues to undermine and mess with the RFS, granting questionable RFS waivers to refiners with no transparency and failing to provide regulatory parity for higher blends of ethanol,” the National Corn Growers Association posted on its website. “The EPA continues to check off the items on Big Oil’s wish list while gutting corn and ethanol demand and undermining the president’s commitment to the RFS in the process.”
The oil-refining industry argues it’s too costly to continue blending ethanol, while also reducing the amount of refined gasoline the industry can sell. Oil industry opponents of the RFS say the 2015 program is broken and needs a comprehensive overhaul.
Strangely, some environmental groups are on the same side as the oil industry, arguing the RFS may actually be harmful in that it encourages converting wild grasslands to corn production instead of promoting other biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol produced from grass, wood, algae or other plants. New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall has introduced a bill to reform the RFS.
During his campaign in 2016, however, and even after he took office, President Trump has consistently supported the continued production of corn ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard. More meetings on the topic are expected in the coming weeks, with observers on all sides of the issue paying very close attention.