President Trump announced during a political rally in Iowa Tuesday that his administration will allow year-round sales of gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, a perk for farmers worried about Trump’s trade wars and a setback for those concerned about the effects of ethanol on the environment.
The move would come one day after an alarming report from the United Nations that said a rise in global temperatures above 1.5 degrees Celsius—which could come as early as 2030—could cause catastrophic damage unless “rapid and unprecedented” changes in energy use is made before then.
The White House has yet to comment on the U.N. report. When asked by the New York Times for a comment, White House communications director Bill Shine said, “Not today. It’s a Kavanaugh night,” referring to Trump’s celebrations of the Senate’s contested confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
The change in ethanol policy involves lifting a ban imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on gasoline blended with 15% ethanol. Most auto manufacturers have designed vehicles to tolerate a 10% ethanol blend in gas, with higher blends possibly damaging pumps, filters and other parts made of rubber and metal, which ethanol can corrode.
Higher ethanol blends also effect the environment in ways that are at best mixed. While ethanol bends can make for cleaner emissions from cars, research has shown that those benefits are more than offset by the emissions caused in producing ethanol. A 2014 study also showed that heavier use of ethanol in vehicles actually caused increased levels of ozone and smog. The effect is stronger on hot days, one reason for the summertime ban.
According to the Associated Press, the lifting of the ban “is something of a reward to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley,” who led a bitter but ultimately successful fight for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Grassley has pushed to lift the ban, which Trump has called “ridiculous.” U.S. farmers of corn and soybeans have been worried about the impact that Trump’s trade war with China could have on the prices of their goods.