Ethanol: The Best Cure for Pain at the Pump

The quickest way to lower gas prices would be to restore the ability of retailers to sell E15 year-round and allow them to do it through existing equipment. The Biden administration could make that happen with little more than the stroke of a pen.
By Geoff Cooper | March 15, 2022

Resurgent global demand, sluggish output, supply chain woes and geopolitical tensions pushed crude oil prices to a seven-year high in 2021. Not surprisingly, retail gas prices also hit a seven-year high, and the average American household spent nearly $1,000 more for gasoline in 2021 than it did in 2020.

Prices have continued to rise so far in 2022, with oil prices topping $110 per barrel in February and average retail gas prices hitting $3.50 a gallon. American consumers, who are currently facing the highest energy price inflation since 2008, are feeling more pain at the pump with each fill-up.

All of this reminds us of an inconvenient reality: We cannot frack our way to low gas prices and energy security. Whether we like it or not, pump prices here in America continue to be shaped by the whims of OPEC and geopolitical events—like the current situation in Ukraine. Clearly, increased production of crude oil alone in the United States is not enough to insulate American consumers from price shocks and volatility at the pump.

In February, President Biden said, “I’m going to work like the devil to bring gas prices down.” But so far, the administration’s efforts to put a lid on gas prices simply haven’t worked. They have called upon OPEC to increase the global supply of crude oil; they have called for investigations into potential anti-consumer behavior by oil companies; they have released oil from the strategic petroleum reserve; and, now, they are looking at suspending the federal gas tax, which pays for maintenance and improvements for our nation’s roads and bridges.

Still, crude oil prices continue to rise, and high gas prices continue to bedevil the administration.
On numerous occasions in recent months, RFA has reminded the White House that it is overlooking a key opportunity to immediately provide relief at the pump for American consumers. Allowing retailers to sell higher blends of low-cost ethanol—like E15—would instantly help moderate prices at the pump.

The proof is in the pudding. Today, fuel blenders can buy a gallon of ethanol for about 50 cents less than a gallon of gasoline. At retail, E15 is typically priced 5 to 15 cents per gallon below E10, and we’ve seen that discount as large as 20 to 25 cents in some places in recent weeks. Simply replacing E10 with E15 would reduce our nation’s spending on gasoline by about $15 billion, saving the average American household $125 on its annual gasoline bill.

Ethanol already has a proven track record when it comes to saving consumers money. In recent years, ethanol’s low cost, its octane value, and its ability to extend fuel supplies have decreased retail gas prices by an average of 22 cents per gallon, according to a study by a former Yale University economist and advisor to two past presidents.

Make no mistake, the quickest way to lower gas prices would be to restore the ability of retailers to sell E15 year-round and allow them to do it through existing equipment. The Biden administration could make that happen with little more than the stroke of a pen, and RFA will continue to encourage them to pursue this commonsense strategy for reducing consumer fuel prices in the near term.


Author: Geoff Cooper
President and CEO
Renewable Fuels Association
202.289.3835
[email protected]