Trump’s ethanol moves: good policy or corn country politics?

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At a Tuesday campaign rally in Iowa, President Trump announced plans to lift the ban on summer sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, known as E15. This move is opposed by oil companies and environmental groups but supported by the agricultural sector. John Yang speaks to Grant Gerlock from Harvest Public Media, who explains the changes and how they could impact the midterm elections.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Next: The subject of energy production was front and center during a campaign-style rally President Trump held in Council Bluffs, Iowa, last night.

    John Yang has the story.

  • John Yang:

    In the heart of corn country, President Trump made good on a campaign pledge to farmers.

  • John Yang:

    The president told a Council Bluffs, Iowa, rally that he’s directing the Environmental Protection Agency to lift the ban on summer sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol, known as E15.

  • John Yang:

    The move is a boon for corn farmers squeezed by low prices for their crop and by foreign tariffs.

    Ethanol is a biofuel made from corn. Since 2007, it has been blended with gasoline. Most gas today contains some ethanol. It was once touted as a greener fuel source, but, increasingly, environmentalists oppose expanding its use. They argue the effects of growing more corn offset ethanol’s benefits.

    Also against the move, oil companies. They have long opposed ethanol and say high ethanol fuel can damage engines in older cars. The Trump administration’s EPA has waived some rules requiring ethanol’s use in gas at the behest of oil producers.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I made that promise you during to you during the primaries, remember? I made that promise. Promises made, promises kept.

  • John Yang:

    Politically, the president’s move is seen as an effort to bolster farm state Republicans in tight races this fall, including some he singled out during Tuesday’s rally. In addition, allowing year-round sales of high ethanol blends has been sought by Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who successfully shepherded the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

    Mr. Trump said the administration would move quickly to have the new rules in place by next summer.

    For a closer look at how the fortunes of corn factor into nearly everything in farm country, particularly during an election year, we turn to Grant Gerlock. He’s a reporter with Harvest Public Media, and he’s based at PBS member station NET News in Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Grant Gerlock, thanks for joining us.

    Explain to us the pressures that corn producers are facing right now. And how big a deal is this to expand the use of ethanol?

  • Grant Gerlock:

    Well, corn prices have been down in the dumps for a few years now.

    And farm income has been on a downward trend for several years in a row. And you mentioned the stress from the tariffs and those disputes with China and Mexico and Canada. And so farmers have been looking for any kind of good news that might point towards signs that maybe prices would increase…

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