Could Trump's ethanol move cost him Florida next year?

Last week we looked at some reports indicating that the EPA was preparing to allow the sale of E-15 ethanol blended gas year round, instead of banning it during the summer. Now the EPA is making it official. The new rules are being presented this week and a period for public comment will begin, heading toward a public hearing on March 29th. Of course, “public comment” isn’t likely to have much impact on the EPA’s decision. (It never really does.) But at least they’re going through the motions. (The Hill)

President Trump on Tuesday advanced a plan that would expand the use of ethanol in gasoline across the U.S., a move pushed by corn farmers but expected to draw ire from the oil and gas industry.

The latest step pushes forward a proposal that would allow the year-round sale of gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15. Previously, E15 was restricted under air pollution requirements between June 1 and Sept. 15, as science shows burning ethanol in warmer temperature leads to heightened ground-level ozone pollution and smog. The new plan will effectively lift those sales barriers.

Also under the plan, Trump will make it harder for refiners to trade credits for biofuel use known as renewable identification numbers (RINs).

So what does this have to do with Florida? The answer is… boaters. Florida has one of the biggest boating communities in the country, and they represent one of the groups that hate ethanol blending more than anyone. Boating is particularly susceptible to damage from high ethanol levels in gasoline, so boaters go out of their way and pay extra to avoid it.

A 2018 survey from BoatUS showed a very strong preference among boaters for ethanol-free gas, with more than one in three boaters reporting that repairs to their motors were required because of damage caused by using gas with ethanol in it. Another survey from 2015 found that 78% (!) expressed “serious concerns” over ethanol’s detrimental effects on boats, motorcycles, cars, lawn equipment, and other small engines.

Sure, we might be tempted to look at those numbers and question just how big of a hit this community could deliver at the ballot box. But consider the numbers. Florida ranks third in boat ownership in the nation, with nearly one million registered boat owners. (Inflate that number a bit for the other family members who aren’t the owner but take part in the activity.) Now, look at Donald Trump’s margin of victory in Florida in 2016. He won the state by 113,000 votes.

Granted, I doubt many of those people are single-issue voters with nothing on their mind but ethanol policy. And the odds are that the Democrat will be pro-ethanol also. But when the economy is strong, wages are up, and there aren’t any new wars starting, people’s thoughts can turn to other matters at election time. The politically smart move might be to stand up to King Corn and do the right thing rather than the politically correct (in Iowa) thing.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on March 24, 2023