Economics/Class Relations

When Food and Fuel Crises Meet

The Biden Administration announced this morning that it was working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make changes to the laws regarding E15 fuel, or gasoline containing up to 15% ethanol. Retailers are allowed to sell an E10 blend (with up to 10% ethanol) year round, but E15 is usually banned from June 1 through September 15–peak automobile travel months in the United States. This is due primarily to concerns over the fuel’s stability in higher temperatures and disputed data about E15’s increased emissions and deleterious impact on air quality.

The Biden administration’s primarily goal here is to help reverse the climb of fuel prices across the United States, a trend that has been exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House estimates that the mix of ethanol in the US fuel supply should knock a few cents off a gallon at the pump. No disputes there.

The issue comes that the US ethanol supply is made primarily from corn. (Some 40% of US corn production ultimately ends up as ethanol in E10 and E15 fuel blends.) We are currently seeing a global agricultural system that is facing serious increases in inputs from fuel to fertilizers, not to mention a global food crisis stemming from a war between two of the world’s largest grain exporters.

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