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March 28, 2019 12:15 PM, EDT

EPA Rushed Ethanol Plan so Trump Could Keep Pledge, Documents Show

Ethanol Sergio Flores/Bloomberg News

After President Donald Trump promised Iowa voters he would unleash high-ethanol gasoline, his administration fast-tracked a plan to lift summertime restrictions on the fuel, forgoing studies of its potential price tag and hastily ending a review of the measure.

At one point, the Environmental Protection Agency even justified not conducting a deep analysis of its proposal by arguing that allowing year-round sales of so-called E15 gasoline wouldn’t actually give a big market boost to ethanol, undermining a key political promise driving the initiative.

The regulatory shift won’t “significantly alter the penetration of E15” and “we do not expect this action to significantly change overall ethanol use,” EPA said.

The comments were included in documents from a White House-led interagency review of the measure, released this week. They reveal how regulators skirted detailed analysis and brushed aside concerns about proposed changes in biofuel-credit trading that could bog down the measure.

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The documents also demonstrate how politics infused the entire effort, as EPA sought to fulfill Trump’s promise to an important voting bloc: Midwestern farmers who helped send him to the White House. Ethanol in the United States mostly is made from corn.

“President Trump promised it in Iowa and they had to deliver. It’s as simple as that,” said Wallace Tyner, an agricultural economist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Trump is “doing everything he can” to maintain a rural base of support, as farmers suffer from crop-wrecking floods and the administration’s trade fight with China, Tyner said. “He can’t lose any of his base.”

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the proposal reflects interaction with other federal agencies and “includes an extensive discussion of the technical rationale, emissions and economic impacts, and costs and benefits associated with regulatory changes to allow gasoline blended with up to 15% ethanol” to be sold year round.

The unusually speedy work to propose the shift for E15 gasoline came over just eight days in early March, as EPA raced to finalize the change before summertime fueling restrictions take effect June 1.

The agency has been considering waiving pollution requirements for E15 gasoline for years, though only recently as part of this formal proposal.