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Ethanol producers push E15 as replacement for Russian oil

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A longtime Indiana ethanol farmer on Friday said farmers like him can play a critical role in keeping the U.S. off of Russian oil.

Josh Miller has grown corn for ethanol near Anderson for the past 15 years and now devotes from 40% to 60% of his crop each year to biofuels. He said he’s getting more attention from the public and from policymakers as a result of growing environmental concerns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The success of the ethanol industry is definitely the success of my farm both today and 20 years from now,” he said.

Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer. It provides about 11% of the world’s oil and accounted for 8% of U.S. oil imports last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. On March 8, the U.S. banned the importation of Russian oil in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Ukraine. Regular gas has since risen above $4 per gallon. On Thursday, President Joe Biden ordered the release of 1 million barrels a day from the strategic petroleum reserve for the next six months, by far the largest such release in the reserve’s history.

Miller and other biofuel advocates said the easiest way to replace America’s Russian oil imports is to increase the use of E15, a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline.

Geoff Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association, said replacing 30% of the nation’s regular pump gas with E15 would not only replace the Russian oil but also eliminate the need to find another country’s oil to import. Cooper said the United States currently produces about 15 billion gallons of ethanol a year, of which about 1.2 billion come from Indiana. The Hoosier State is currently home to 15 ethanol refineries.

“We’ve got spare capacity, we have plants that are idle today that could come back online and contribute more volume to the system and that would obviously bring prices down,” he said, adding ethanol currently is selling for about $1 per gallon less than gasoline.

On March 9, a bipartisan group of 16 senators representing Midwestern states asked the Biden administration to allow E15 sales during the summer months. The EPA approved year-round sales of E15 three years ago but a lawsuit is blocking the rule from taking effect.

Miller said devoting some of his crop to ethanol means environmental as well as financial security for his three young sons. He said it means cleaner air for them and a stronger cash flow when they eventually take over the farm.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved E15 for use in all passenger vehicles manufactured after 2001, but the Renewable Fuels Association said most manufacturers have only approved it for use in their vehicles within the past few years. Some foreign manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz and Mazda still don’t recommend it. Drivers should check their owner’s manuals before putting E15 in their tank.